Being the head of Tata BP Solar, K Subramanya is no stranger to innovation. When the company started off in 1989, there was hardly any solar power. K Subramanya, Head, Tata BP Solar generation in the country. Today, the government is talking of using it for the grid, signalling that the sector has surely come of age. Tata BP Solar has worked with small companies and it has made some remarkable innovations to produce higher power on smaller solar panels. In a freewheeling chat with Anirvan Ghosh, he talks about how to inculcate innovation in a sector when there are no set benchmarks.
When you started off, solar power looked like just another fad. How did you motivate people to innovate and make new solar devices?
As hardly anyone was focusing on solar energy, it was exciting to be in this field. Today, we have managed to run 10 computers solely on solar power, across many SMBs and small branches, and also water pumps in states such as Haryana and UP. We kept researching along with BP and came up with new solutions. Innovation is all the more exciting when you are driving it.
What about manpower? Till date, there are hardly any institutes training in this field...
That is certainly a major problem, and something that hasn’t changed in all these years. We need trained manpower. Today, we hire talented people from engineering colleges and train them on our own in solar technology. That apart, we need to train them in softer skills such as teamwork and communications. If technology and soft skills are taught beforehand, our job becomes more interesting.
What can the government do to foster innovation in such sectors?
The government can play a major role, and it has, at least in solar. It can create a big new market. For example, we are powering 10,000 street lights with solar energy. We are also powering so many rural homes and water pumps. The government in some states provides subsidies to use solar power and now the Centre has a clear-cut Solar Vision document. That will bring volumes and spur investment in innovation.
While this was an urban technology to start with, now rural areas are the main growth drivers...
Absolutely. If you are able to supply four hours of guaranteed lighting in places that never knew electricity, it is at least a good beginning. Now we power CFL lamps this way, soon it will be LED lamps. Sometimes some people demand that the entire house be run on solar energy—this is possible in rural areas in energy deficient states such as UP, Jharkhand, Bihar and also Leh and Ladakh. We have got a big customer base in rural areas of northern Karnataka as well.
What is the latest innovation in the sector?
To make more efficient solar panels is one. We have made one for grid connectivity and this single panel can produce around 280 W power. This is the highest ever. Unless you have such efficient systems, you would need a huge area covered with panels, which might not always be available at one place.
This can also lead to offices in urban areas being powered by solar power...
Yes, and it is already happening. We supply to base stations in remote places, and also on offshore drilling platforms for oil firms in the Arabian Sea. This is an example of energy powering businesses. In the oil rigs, we use solar energy to produce an anti-current which prevents corrosion of rigs inside water. This will rise. Global demand for solar power is expected to grow over 80% in 2010, and in India it is likely to grow fivefold to 150MW.