Industry Day: Interview with Dr. R.R. Sonde

Dr. R.R. Sonde started his career working as a scientist in Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). In his current assignment as Executive Vice President and a member of the Executive Council of Thermax, his main thrust is on bringing innovation and enhancing knowledge in the existing technologies within Thermax. Dr Sonde is also deeply involved in developing new technologies in the field of energy, environment and water. In an interview ahead of the Industry Day he talks about ways for bolstering academic-industry collaboration.

How do you see events like Industry Day forge better Academia-Industry collaborations?


These are essential for forging collaborations to accelerate the process of translation of R&D to market. Both academia and industry should make conscious effort to enhance the quality and frequency of such events so that good part of research at academia becomes a directed research. Industry must use this platform to meet their long term vision and not as a 'here and now' problem solving avenue.


Please give a brief about the subject on which you will be talking.


My topic for discussion is --Distributed power generation in the landscape of renewable energy in India: Technology, Regulatory and Enterprise challenges. As the title suggests, the emerging energy scene in India is the focus for the last mile connectivity to all the villages and communities deprived of power based on distributed renewable energy.This also meets the climate change commitments under COP 21. Transition from large sized thermal and hydro power to small sized plants based on renewable energy is a real challenge. The wired grid power makes this challenge all the more complex.

No single model will work across India. In my talk, alternatives would be suggested using multiple technology options and possible business models which can create sustainable solutions for India.


In the field of energy, specifically what are the major challenges while collaborating with academia? How can these be addressed?


Energy by nature is interdisciplinary and hence requires interface across various branches and specializations. This often pose problems to industry. Some institutions have created energy departments or centers but the real need is to pick faculties from multiple disciplines and put them together under a networking model. The topic on distributed energy as an example would need specialization from solid state physics, material science, power electronics, mechanical and chemical engineering sciences and industrial design experts. We would also need experts from the field of business management and policy domain.

Unless all the disciplines are put together in a mission mode, most of the challenges in energy cannot be addressed. Academia can make this happen since this is the only body in the society which has this rare blend of cross disciplinary expertise under one roof.


How do you see the academia help industry in technological intervention or CSR initiatives with reference to energy?


The energy solutions will have to be enterprise driven if it has to be sustainable. India is a cost sensitive nation and hence the only way we can create sustainable solutions in energy (and for that matter in every other field) is through innovations at the breakthrough levels. Motivated leadership from both is very crucial to create the right atmosphere for engagement.