Apart from her BE, MBA, LLM degrees and holding a PhD title, perhaps “Batterywali of India” is the one that defines Dr Rashi Gupta the most clearly and fondly.
She has kindly agreed to interview us and answer our questions about the challenges the energy industry faces, lithium batteries and women’s role in the energy sector.
Carolina Garcia: Are there any other renewable energy experts or anyone working in this field in your family?
Dr Gupta: No, I am the first person in renewable energy in my family. During my entire journey, there have been no investors. It is all my money and time that I betted on this. The funniest part is when I was trying to get into lithium battery business for energy storage back in 2015, everybody said, “please do not get into this business, you will lose all your money!”. Because lithium batteries were not something that India would accept yet, look at it now! Everybody wants a lithium battery. I did not lose my money! *laughs*
So, how did you get into renewable energy if there was no influence or support?
When I founded Vision Mechatronics in 2009, the central business was robotics and industrial automation, which is still one of the company’s verticals. However, I have always wanted to do something more sustainable and long-lasting that also creates something good for society. For that matter, renewable energy – solar energy was very attractive. But solar energy was already mainstream, and the market was saturated. I always had my eyes on more niche segments of the industry, so I turned my attention to energy storage and lithium batteries.
You went into the renewable energy industry seeking for a niche market, so can we say launching your battery company was your dream in this industry?
I did not want to have a regular lithium battery company despite the attractiveness of the lithium batteries; I wanted to create World’s Smartest Lithium Battery in India.
How did those dreams change or reshape?
Well, the dreams and aspirations have only grown. Year after year, we have added new products around RE energy storage coupled with the maximum possible inclusion of the latest technologies such as Artificial intelligence, IoT, and now we are progressing towards Blockchain as well.
The zest to bring about a sustainable, affordable change is the bottom-line for me, and that is one of the core values that we have imbibed in our company’s culture. One thing that mainly touches me is to see the smiles and hope in the eyes of these young children who get access to 24x7 clean energy, that sparkle in their eyes is just so beautiful. When we installed an OneBox system at this rural village school in India, the energy access has now transformed the school to the extent that the admissions have doubled, and they have full-scale e-learning classes.
When did you start to work on women’s empowerment and gender equality? Did your journey as a woman in this industry influence this work?
It was from day one. You know, ever since I stepped into this business, it was not easy. I was challenged and told that women were not good technical people; they cannot design products well. That hit me to the core. Then I said, in my company, I will make sure that there are a considerable number of women working and I will make the change in society. It was no doubt challenging, but I did that to show women are equally good at technical aspects.
As a woman in this industry, my journey was with all the spice mix that one could imagine. A decade ago, people thought “What this young girl would do in this industry”, many even said, “In a few years she will be out of business and will be doing household work, so she is nothing to be worried about”. But my focus was always to create a change in the mindset of these people and being consistent in work, I was able to bring about a change in the attitude of at least a few people.
Can you elaborate on the most significant challenges women face in this industry?
There are more women at the mid-management level, and senior levels now but not at the ground workforce level. Because having life-work balance is hard in this field. Energy is a 24x7 living business. Unfortunately, they hit a glass ceiling much earlier than their male counterparts because of that. If the sector is smart enough to use strengths and skills of women who have high emotional intelligence and multitasking abilities, I think there will be a significant transformation in the industry. I believe having such a woman in critical positions electrifies the entire work environment.
The second challenge I see is that we are not looked upon as professionals. We are seen as a woman in the sector. No, we are just as professional as you are regardless of gender. We need to see the person as a professional and not qualify them on their gender. In developing countries, the safety of women is also definitely a challenge.
Considering your experience, what is your advice to people joining the renewable and or solar energy industry?
First is be confident in yourself, trust that you know “it”. Second is be focused; it is crucial to remain focused on your goals. The third most important thing is sharpening your skills and staying relevant. I know it is hard to make extra time for this. But you must make some spare time for yourself to grow your skills continuously, so you are one step ahead of your counterparts.
Considering the energy sector in India, what do you think about the goal of achieving %100 EV by 2030?
Since I am also a part of the International Electrotechnical Commission contributing to the global standardisation process, I see that the industry is working very closely with the standards to achieve this dream by 2030. I see that India is also putting a lot of effort into this. Almost every state in the country has come up with its EV policy. Each one of them has given incentives, and each is working very aggressively to create charging infrastructure.
On the other hand, we need to strengthen our grid – even in the developed countries, we need this for a complete transition to EVs. We need to make our grid greener by adding more renewable energy and storage to it.
There is also the challenge to make 175GW of renewable energy by the end of 2020 in India, right? We are so close to the end of the year? Do you think will this be achieved?
I think we will achieve it. I am very optimistic. Even though we lost some time because of the pandemic, the industry has just opened, and people are also opening to the idea of making more and more environmentally friendly choices. Because this pandemic has shown us the value of life, food, clean and green environment. In India, population and pollution are incredibly high, so when we were in complete lockdown in the months of April-May-June, we saw the cleanest air at that time. So now, people realise that it is important to have clean air to breathe, to save the Earth. They now realise the importance of what they would be passing onto the next generation. So, I can see a change in the mindset. It is going to be slow because of the economic impacts of pandemic globally. People are making important choices; they are asking questions about the material sources asking about recycling the materials.
Do you think battery systems can become more sustainable? Or do you think this is going to be the Achilles’ heel of the batteries?
We need to move towards a circular economy, towards recycling. Batteries are no different. Even though lithium batteries have a longer lifespan than their counterparts, we need to start today with reuse and recycling to be in a great place by the next decade. By 2030, we should be in a situation where we are not loading the environment to its utmost capacity. We need to be doing a lot of reuse. We need to take the same approach with batteries and other renewable energy products.
Thank you very much for your time and this great conversation. As a closing note, is there a project you want to share or something we should keep an eye on?
Yes, I would recommend your readers to check out OneBox, which is a Lithium-based battery system made in India. We presented it as an integrated system to give unlimited and uninterrupted power and zero blackouts. OneBox systems can be installed everywhere that is in rural areas, hotels, hospitals, offices, industries and last but not the least, in our homes. I believe this will play an essential role in energy independence of India, then everywhere else.
Note: You can read more about OneBox and Dr Rashi Gupta’s company www.vmechatronics.com
Cover Photo: Pv Magazine https://www.pv-magazine.com/pv-magazine-events/future-pv-roundtable-renewable-energy-india-expo-2019/
P.S: This interview is transcribed and edited by SEE team member Merve Özcaner.