Conference Sets Roadmap For Rural Energy Independence

Pics.: Sandeep Savla A.V.Creations

The Robinson College of Business of Georgia State University, and the Global Indian Business Council (GIBC), co-hosted a one-day conference laying out an ambitious roadmap to rural energy independence starting with India. The conference was held at the Tower Place 200 facility of Robinson College in Buckhead, Atlanta on Friday March 17.

Mr. Nagesh Singh, CGI Atlanta

Dan Bello and Sushil Nifadkar, of GSU’s faculty of International Business, welcomed the attendees who came from several US States, India and Africa to GSU and emphasized the role of international business in Atlanta. Mr. Dhiru Shah of GIBC introduced the Consul General of India His Excellency Nagesh Singh, who spoke with passion about the tremendous advances made in India in recent years, and the challenges that lie ahead. Over 200 million people have risen out of poverty, but many more remain. The nation aims to reach over 175 Gigawatts of power generation, yet the need for last-mile connectivity and grassroots access to energy remains most urgent, and requires innovative thinking. Over a billion people have been enrolled in biometric identification and hundreds of millions of first-time bank customers have enrolled in the past 3 years, many able to transact business electronically via the biometric ID and cellphone. The time is ripe for further advancement. Georgia Tech aerospace engineering professor Narayanan Komerath noted that while technologists could develop solutions to massive problems, businesspeople, NGOs, skilled workers, administrative officers and diplomats are needed to turn the solutions into reality. While many initiatives are in progress, hundreds of millions wake up every morning with no access to basic power. The roadmap integrates diverse entities to point the way to total energy independence with NGOs, corporate social responsibility resources, new technology infusion, rural skills and employment generation, and public-private partnerships all driving the orders-of-magnitude growth required for full energy independence.

Prof. Jane Davidson, University of MN - on 'Thermochemical Fuel Generation' (left)
Ms. Sarah Hillware, Consultant to World Bank - on 'Empowering women'

University of Minnesota professor Jane Davidson explained thermochemical fuel generation using intensified sunlight. Prairie grass feedstock can be converted to syngas, and thence to many types of liquid hydrocarbon fuel. While scaling up to compete in the US petroleum marketplace is difficult, the size reached is already appropriate for adaptation to Indian villages. Several businesspeople expressed interest in learning more about this technology. Ms. Sarah Hillware emphasized the importance of empowering women in bringing revolutionary change at the village level all over the world. She cited her experience with advancing the education and empowerment of women in the US and in Kenya in areas of health and hygiene, microfinance entrepreneurship, and technology acceptance. Bala Ganesh and Gautam Mattey of UPS Inc. provided a fascinating glimpse into logistics, “connecting 660,000 PIN codes” all over rural India. Modern technology such as robotic land vehicles and drone aircraft are already being tested, to deliver crucial supplies swiftly across intractable terrain. These offer intriguing solutions around the infrastructure problems in rural India. Professor Rajendra Singh of Clemson University, a specialist in photovoltaics, argued at length about the exclusive potential of photovoltaic power generation, predicting continued price decline like computers. Professor Vijay Madisetti of Georgia Tech gave a succinct and authoritative overview of the fast-evolving Internet of Things (IoT) and the associated BlockChain technologies for transparent, reliable peer-to-peer transactions. He explained the relative merits of competing technologies to measure and maintain the performance of distributed energy systems, as well as enabling customers to interact with such systems with high trust and minimal transaction cost or complexity.

Prof. Vijay Madisetti, GA Tech on "Internet of Things (IOT) & Block Chain Technology"
Mr. Dan Bello, Director of Institute of International Business, GSU

Professor Jagdish Sheth of Emory University gave a fascinating insight into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Indian businesses are obliged by law to use 2 percent of their net earnings in projects of their choosing that benefit society. Rural energy independence provides mid-level, small and particularly, family-run corporations in smaller towns with an excellent vehicle for CSR resources. Over $4B is available annually for such uses. Dr. Sheth spoke with passion about the importance of providing opportunity to rural residents, citing himself as an example. Sumesh Arora of the Mississippi Development Authority described the similarities, solutions and relevance in issues faced in Mississippi, to those in India. The Mississippi Development Authority deals with various types of power generation technologies.

Prof. Jagdish Sheth- Emory Univ. on "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of Indian businesses

Dhiru Shah of GIBC set the problems in today’s India in historical context, pointing to the rich heritage of rural industry, education and trade that flourished in pre-Colonial times. Today fragmentation of agricultural land and lack of opportunity keep the villages in poverty. He pointed to the primacy of education and skill development in reviving the villages, and the need for energy to accomplish these goals. A team presentation by Dr. Vijay Vemulapalli, Mr. Malla Reddy and Mrs. Manjula Reddy discussed their experience of the VIBHA and Ekal Vidyalaya NGOs in providing grassroots education and support, particularly in the tribal villages of India. Dr. Vemulapalli discussed VIBHA’s experience of working with children in particular. Mr. Malla Reddy explained the Training Workers in Industry (TWI) processes that were developed during World War II in the USA when the workforce included millions of women and older workers who had to be trained rapidly. These techniques were adopted by Japanese and German industry after the war to improve productivity and product quality. Mrs. Reddy discussed the realities seen during her visits to tribal schools run by the Ekal Vidyalayas.

A Panel discussion closed out the conference. Dr. R. Natarajan of Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), Tamil Nadu, India, briefly described how that top-ranking private engineering institution has adopted several villages, their students providing assistance and mentoring to villagers. The institution provides full scholarships to village youth who perform well in the engineering entrance examinations, and special assistance if needed to level the fields of opportunity with their urban classmates. Prof. Natarajan provided eye-opening examples of VIT’s research efforts in various areas including wind energy. Mr. Ashwin Patel of GIBC related his experiences in developing and bring to market an efficient cookstove or choolha, which has now been accepted by the World Bank for use in rural communities. He is also developing a solution for urban waste, extracting syngas from it and generating fertilizer from the residue. He cited his experience of how school systems in India can be improved through effective intervention. Mr. Gautam Mattey further discussed the role of technological solutions in leapfrogging logistics and infrastructure difficulties in India, answering audience questions about the role and deployment of aerial and terrestrial robots. Several of the participants spoke to the media about their experiences and views, from their strong personal desire to see energy independence brought to rural India, and anticipated the next steps moving forward towards that goal.