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“Profit is fuel for business; Purpose gives it direction”

Dr. Shalini Sarin, Executive Director, Elektromobilitat India shares her mantra for success, what it takes to be an entrepreneur in the energy business, and the opportunities for women in clean energy ventures.

Dr. Shalini Sarin

The year 2020 would be etched in our memory forever, though most of us would love to forget it. However, the outbreak of the pandemic and the associated changes it forced in our behavior, have brought forward certain narratives to mitigate the impact of climate change. One such narrative is electric mobility.

Q: You are an entrepreneur, HR leader and serve as a strategic advisor to several organizations working in the areas of clean energy, energy efficiency, and electric mobility; tell us about how your journey started.
I worked as an HR professional for over three decades. While I was heading HR at Schneider Electric, I also got exposed to clean energy and energy efficiency solutions at Schneider. I was also responsible for the access to energy business for Schneider in India where I learned a lot and got attracted to development work in energy. Later, I moved to Philips at their global HQ and got similar experience at a global level in HR and access to energy or lighting in specific. This started my learning and journey in the clean energy space, and am now helping set up the center for clean energy at Plaksha. After returning to India, I knew I want to be close to clean energy, hence ventured into the EV charging infrastructure with a start-up.

Q: 'Profit with Purpose and Passion' is your personal mantra, help us understand more about it and how has it has shaped your business and personal life.
When working with large corporates like Schneider Electric and Philips, I was also fortunate to get an opportunity to collaborate with the development sector to create and deploy solutions for underserved markets. This exposure helped me to learn that corporates and the social sector both have a lot to learn from each other. 'Profit' is not a bad word, in fact, it enables the business to sustain itself for a long time and is the fuel for any business. While 'purpose' gives direction and meaning for the business to exist, businesses addressing social needs or enhancing the value of life based on ethical practices, without exploiting the planet or people, create 'value'. 'Shared value' business models create value for society while reinforcing business objectives. They encompass a wide range of business activities, such as creating ethical supply chains, developing socially beneficial products, and generating sustainable social investments.

Q: You started a new venture Elektromobilitat India and serve as its Executive Director and Mentor; how has been the journey been of founding your own venture and leading it? What are some distinct leadership capabilities women leaders bring to an organization in your view? 
As a first-time entrepreneur, one is never prepared enough when it comes to starting a venture. This calls for a different muscle, where besides an analytical mind and knowledge about the sector, there is a need for courage, risk-taking, experimentation, collaboration, and much more. Women are at an advantage as they are more collaborative and have abilities to bring different stakeholders to work together for a common cause. EV mobility aligns with my passion for clean energy and I realize that electric cars and chargers will not be enough to propel this transition from ICE to EVs. It requires all ecosystem partners to work together for faster adoption such as power provider, land, charging infrastructure (which includes hardware and software), operators, charging behavior from 10-minute charge to 30-minute charge, enough footfall of EVs to make the model viable, cost of EVs and a host of other things.


Women can play a substantial role in the entire value chain from designing the solutions to safe disposal of batteries, including recycling

Q: Tell us more about your work with startups in the social sector and social impact ventures. What kind of impact will clean energy ventures have on our communities in the years to come?
The social investment provides repayable finance that aims to achieve a social and financial return. By looking for social investment opportunities within the business and its operations, companies can create value for society, reinforce business objectives and create value for shareholders. It is sustainable and gives opportunities for them to engage deeply in social causes. Several ventures are creating an impact in the clean energy space like Frontier Markets and Dharma Life working with women entrepreneurs in access to energy and clean cooking; Barefoot College in training solar technicians; Women on Wings is enabling women entrepreneurs; SEWA, SMV Green, Villgro and several others helping with the microfinance or self-help groups to support service and last-mile distribution of solar or distributed energy solutions. Clean energy ventures will benefit women immensely as they are the worst impacted by its absence – like promoting clean cooking instead of the use of firewood as it causes health issues due to smoke. Similarly, access to light not only enhances the productive day but also adds to the safety and security of movement. I see energy playing a pivotal role in transport and appliances too, in the next phase of the development of renewable energy.

Q: What would you like to share with women entering the renewable, clean energy, and clean transportation sector? What are some opportunities you see emerging in these fields?

India needs environmentally friendly means of shared transport systems. It is only possible when renewable energy is hip locked with electric mobility. There is a need for women entrepreneurs to be encouraged to join both in supporting technology and use of it. A pilot project to support women entrepreneurs in Delhi to be e-rickshaw drivers, while owning and managing the vehicle, is underway. Women can play a substantial role in the entire value chain from designing the solutions to safe disposal of batteries, including recycling.

Q: Responsible use of energy is important in our aim for transitioning towards a climate-resilient and secure energy future; what is your vision for the future and how do you hope to shape this sector through your efforts and engagement?
Responsible use is not only about the type and power footprint of the appliances, but also to determine whether it is needed in the first place when to use it, and how much. Enabling remote sensing, monitoring, and control of appliances further enables automation, helping efficacious use and efficiency of performance. An example case is to link the use of air conditioners with ambient temperature sensors, which automatically adjust the temperature control settings of the AC. In the area of EV charging, there is a huge opportunity for building shared infrastructure for home charging rather than providing a committed resource per vehicle. Master-Slave technology exists in AC Chargers and is in extensive use in the western world, where several cars can be charged simultaneously without breaching the grid load limits yet offering the flexibility of one meter serving many chargers.

Q: What are some other inspiring ideas you would like to share with our readers.
Our society will continue needing energy. Thus, developing and investing in sensible greener energy solutions is crucial. There is no doubt that investing in the development of renewable energies is a step in the right direction. Yet, the balance in this field can be hard to strike. While we are great advocates for green energies, we are also aware that producing any type of energy comes, like any activity, with some sort of negative environmental impact. Clean energies can come with their own caveats: from their intermittence to their recyclability to their impact on biodiversity. Hence my belief is to take a holistic and local approach to energy, as one solution does not fit all.

Author : Shraddha Kakade
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