Suman Lahiri_ProjectsMonitor

Suman Lahiri_ProjectsMonitorSuman Lahiri, Regional Manager, European Business & Technology Centre

Founded in 2008, European Business & Technology Centre works towards fostering cooperation between research and business communities in European Union countries and India, across several fields including clean energy. Suman Lahiri tells Venugopal Pillai about EBTC’s objectives and achievements, and how it is poised to contribute towards the larger goal of mitigating climate change. Lahiri, who has a background in engineering, has been at the forefront of several Indo-EU collaborations so far.

At the outset, tell us more about EBTC, its incorporation and main objectives.
The European Business & Technology Centre (EBTC) is a programme co-funded by the EU and coordinated by EUROCHAMBRES. It was launched in India in 2008 with its headquarters in New Delhi. Following this, three regional offices were set up two years ago in the metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata, thus ensuring that we’re present pan-India.

EBTC’s objective is fairly simple, but within a complex and broad subject: we’re working to assist the business and research communities in the EU and India, to work together and generate new opportunities and technology transfer from the EU to India, pertaining mainly to clean technology, and therefore addressing the issue of climate change.

Does EBTC only work in the area of clean energy?
Our core competencies at EBTC are in four sectors: biotechnology, energy, environment and transport. Whilst energy is treated as a separate core competency, it also plays a significant role in our other areas, and within the energy sector, we aim to help provide solutions for the entire spectrum from energy generation to energy efficiency.

Given that the EU has a history of investment and commitment to developing clean technology, with a head start in R&D and implementation of solutions, we’re naturally trying to bring their renewable energy technologies to India. India is focusing on areas including solar, wind, bio energy, and hydro, and innovative EU SMEs can add value in these focus areas, as well as other areas such as geothermal and marine energies.

Whilst renewables are increasingly part of the energy generation solution, we also realise that India will still rely on fossil fuels to satisfy increasing energy demand in the immediate future. Coal accounts for the majority of installed generation capacity, and will continue to do so, therefore we’re pushing for clean coal solutions. Energy distribution and efficiency is of prime importance, so for instance, we’re looking at technologies to rejuvenate the energy infrastructure and solve challenges surrounding transmission and distribution. As part of this, smart grid is playing an increasingly interesting area.

At the consumer end, a few solutions amongst others include energy efficient ‘green’ buildings,’ and transportation, from alternative fuels, to vehicles, logistics, and software, are areas where EU technologies can add value. Quite recently, we facilitated an Italian company, NewEn Pvt Ltd, with their first steps in India to bring an innovative software solution by facilitating an MoU with Kolkata-based Enfragy solutions. We’re also looking at collaborations in areas such as energy storage.

Tell us in some detail about how EBTC goes about in finding complementing partners to eventually form alliances.
With increasing demand for EU clean technology solutions in India, our approach in finding complementing partners is two-pronged.

Firstly, we receive enquiries about opportunities in the Indian market from EU companies and researchers, individually, and via EBTC’s strategic partners across the EU’s 27 countries. EBTC is also the India coordinator of the Enterprise Europe Network, the world’s largest technology platform, and we’re able to utilise this network to identify solutions. Secondly, our pan-India presence means that we have strong connections to, and receive direct requests for technologies and solutions from Indian businesses, researchers, and strategic partners. EBTC is demand driven, so we identify Indian need and project opportunities, and perform stringent due diligence to ensure that these opportunities are authentic before proceeding to connect with EU solutions.

Our flagship missions and other events are an ideal place to conduct B2B meetings, and meet counterparts. Virtual exchanges and face-to-face meetings are supported by EBTC, and we’re available throughout the process to answer queries and apprehensions that the EU party may have before and during the formation of an alliance.

We feel that the European solar industry is highly mature and there could be a strategic fit considering India’s solar power ambitions. What is your view on solar energy being a major growth driver for EBTC in India?
India faces a dual challenge of energy security and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and conducive polices are in place to address this. The country faces a peak energy demand deficit of 8.5 per cent. It also has skewed generation, with 56.4 per cent installed generation capacity from coal, to 12.2 per cent from non-hydro renewable energy sources (Central Electricity Authority, 2012-13). It is in this context that solar generation can cater, not only to generate electricity but also cater to the demand for clean sustainable energy.

The EU solar industry is maturing and technologies can assist with the growth of India’s solar industry. EU countries have a substantial chunk of generation from solar PV, accounting for 47 per cent of new EU electricity capacity in 2011, with Germany and Italy leading the continent, and the global PV market. Whilst concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) capacity is globally led by Spain, solar thermal heating and cooling is also an area where the EU can add value (REN21, 2012).

With strengths from R&D to production and implementation, European organisations have witnessed the evolution of technological projects and progress in solar technology and it’s the perfect time to collaborate with Indian counterparts to bring these solutions and drive the growth of the solar industry here. With an abundance of solar generation technology, the EU is well poised to provide solutions for Indian solar generation, and EBTC is strategically placed to match the demand across India, to the supply of solar solutions from Europe.

Tell us a little more some recent partnership facilitated by EBTC. For instance, we learn of Ciel et Terre teaming up with an Indian partner for floating solar modules.
Ciel et Terre (C&T) from France first came to India in November 2011 during EBTC’s Flagship Environment Mission in Bengaluru with their innovative floating solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. We’ve been handholding and guiding them since then, and C&T signed a cooperation agreement with EBTC to help explore possibilities in India.

Land, energy and water have been issues of prime concern across Eastern and North-Eastern India, and this innovative French technology that provides a simple solution to a complex problem is now nearly a reality. Patented by C&T, the Hydrelio system is a unique solution to address the combined issue of energy, water conservation and land availability. It’s a reliable and eco-friendly way to save valuable land and convert a water area into a profitable large scale solar power plant (from 1 to 50 mw), and water aeration technology can also be fitted with the structure to enable purification of the water.

Critical success factors for such a project include building a local supply chain, attaining an appropriate power purchase agreement (PPA), power plant investors and operators. All of which are possible given the abundance of resources and potential in the region.

The floating solar PV technology (Hydrelio system) developed by C&T is one-step closer to being implemented in the Eastern region because EBTC recently helped to facilitate a memorandum of understanding with Klystron Electronics Pvt. Ltd from Kolkata.

We believe that India has a very vibrant SME sector but lacks technology. What is your overall view? What role is EBTC playing in developing the Indian SME sector through alliances and, in the process, also meeting India’s clean energy demands?
We agree that Indian SMEs are vibrant, with a myriad of strengths such as in manufacturing, in their distribution networks, with access to a quality workforce, and grassroots knowledge. Indian SMEs can be excellent partners for EU SMEs that also face similar challenges and strengths, to help tap the Indian market. Our role in bringing together EU SMEs with Indian counterparts (including SMEs) who require new and innovative clean technologies is a win-win situation for building strengths and collaborations for SMEs in both the EU and India.

How do you see the road ahead for EBTC in India especially with respect to clean energy operations?
The road ahead is promising, clean energy operations are growing, and we’re seeing increasing interest from Indian companies requiring more energy efficient technologies, venturing into renewables, and growing confidence amongst EU companies and researchers looking towards the Indian market and gaining strength through collaborations. As India travels towards a low carbon economy, the clean technology market is a fairly new horizon for Indian SMEs to tap, and EU SMEs can lend their knowledge, expertise and innovations.

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