April 2015 | Gayatri Kamath

'The consumer will reign'

Tata Power's chief operating officer, Ashok Sethi, who has clocked 39 years with the company, shares his views on the organisation’s evolution

What are Tata Power’s strengths?
We are the third Tata company to touch a centenary. Sustainability is in the DNA of the company, along with the Tata value system and our philosophy of giving back to society. Also, our forte has been technology. We have always been a trend-setter in bringing in new technologies to India, from being the first power company to computerise operations to installing the country’s first 500MW unit (in Mundra). We are trying to further promote this passion for technology.

What are the challenges facing the company today?
In the power sector it is tough to deal with unexpected changes in the regulatory regime. We need to be able to foresee changes and be more agile. For instance, changes in global coal prices and domestic coal block allocations have completely changed the outlook of some of our coal-based projects, such as the 1,980MW project in Tiruldih, Jharkhand. We need to build our advocacy capabilities and leverage technology for growth. In the circumstances, we need to generate cheaper power and be efficient and cost-effective, rather than merely growing in scale.

How do you see the years ahead panning out for Tata Power?
The future is going to be the reign of the consumer. We need to build our customer-centricity processes and digitise and offer mobile apps for services. Another aspect is demand-side management to improve efficiencies in power utilisation. Tata Power is a pioneer in this. For example, we promoted the use of efficient lighting systems, such as LED bulbs. Maharashtra was the first state to regulate on this, because of Tata Power. We are also working on flattening our load profile and thermal storage is one way of doing this.

In the future carbon taxes may make green energies more viable. We need to have a balanced portfolio to be future ready, so about 25 percent of our power portfolio is going to be from green and clean energy. We are setting up about 200MW of wind projects every year, we use clean-coal technologies to reduce our resource load, and we are investing in research on clean technologies.

Community engagement is another focus area. A big part of our funding will be to build sustainable livelihoods through skilling.

Can you talk about the distributed generation initiative?
We are trying to make a breakthrough in distributed generation through hybrid diesel solar sets. We plan to start by generating about 30MW through this. We can electrify about 12 villages with 1MW; these may be standalone or grid-connected projects.

Know more about Tata Power's fascinating journey:
Overview: 100 years of high-wattage performance
A century ago, Tata Power ran a single hydroelectric project in India. Today it has grown to a $5.6-billion global enterprise, with coal mines in Indonesia, wind farms in South Africa, energy projects in Turkey and Zambia and technology partnerships in Australia. It is India's largest integrated private power producer, spanning power generation, transmission, distribution and trading
'We will continue to bring new technologies to India'
The path that Tata Power has chosen for itself is global and clean, as the company’s chief executive, Anil  Sardana, explains in this interview
'We have to slog our assets'
There are challenges as well as opportunities on the path that Tata Power has chosen to take, says chief financial officer Ramesh Subramanyam
'A climate of respect is vital'
Chief culture officer and head of business excellence and transformation, Vivek Talwar, on what makes Tata Power a sustainable organisation
'People policies are linked to the company's strategy'
Employee engagement is critical to improve staff morale and the sense of belonging in the company, says human resources head Chetan Tolia
The going is green
A presence across hydro, wind, solar and geothermal makes it easier for Tata Power to target a cleaner energy portfolio
Chain of excellence
From renewable power to consumer friendliness, Tata Power’s associate entities have set the standard for the industry
For country and community, in the spirit of giving back
The corporate social responsibility initiatives of Tata Power have made a tremendous difference, in a wide variety of ways, to the lives of the countless people they have touched
'We were getting marginalised'
Tata Power had to think beyond Mumbai to stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry, and that’s what it did, writes Prasad Menon
From dependable to adaptable
Tata Power has grown spectacularly in scale and spread thanks to its ability to reinvent itself, says Adi Engineer
When 'farmers' became 'hunters'
Where once reliability and continuity were prized, Tata Power has moved on to find its balance and to flourish in a business arena rendered volatile, writes Firdose Vandrevala
'It was easier to run back then'
KM Gherda remembers the days of Tata Electric Companies, of ‘reasonable returns’ and a business where the big complexity was accounting for three rather than one
A pioneer all the way through
FC Kohli on the company where he made his mark as an information technology whiz, at a time when government permission was needed to get computers installed