Hamza Arsiwala: AI & smart metering are changing the dynamics in power sector

  • Interviews
  • Mar 01,24
In this interview with Manish Pant, Hamza Arsiwala, President of IEEMA, gives a sense of the paradigm shifts taking place in the country’s power sector.
Hamza Arsiwala: AI & smart metering are changing the dynamics in power sector

The 16th edition of ELECRAMA, as per the organiser Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers Association (IEEMA), is expected to be “bigger, better and bolder”. As India gears up to host the world’s largest biennale of electricals and electronics trade show in early 2025 (February 22-26), Manish Pant caught up with Hamza Arsiwala, President of IEEMA and CMD of the Mumbai-based power products manufacturer Stelmac, in New Delhi to get a sense of the paradigm shifts taking place in the country’s power sector. Edited excerpts…

You have said that while today India is aatmanirbhar (self-reliant) in electricals and electronics, going forward it will be manufacturing for the world. What makes you so optimistic about the sector’s potential?
There are two drivers behind this. Firstly, India is being seen as an upcoming global manufacturing hub. With the world increasingly looking at China Plus One there is a growing interest in Indian technology and products, propelling companies here to expand their capacity by up to three times in the short term. Parallelly, there’s a huge domestic demand owing to the movement towards net zero through a new renewable grid of solar and wind, which will lead to a growing demand for cables, conductors and switchgear.

Are schemes such as Production Linked Incentives (PLI) and Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) having an impact?
Tremendously so! For instance, RDSS is aimed at overhauling the electricity distribution companies (discoms), which due to their socioeconomic commitments were under tremendous financial stress in terms of both cash and reserves. They had to be supported substantially by the government as today power has become an essential need like food clothing and shelter. In the past too, some initiatives were taken to reform the segment. However, the RDSS has proved to be most effective due to the Rs 3 lakh crore allocation for measures such as smart metering and distribution automation. These grants are linked to a discom’s performance. Restoring stability at discoms is very important as they are the key component in reaching electricity to consumers.

Other programmes such as Mission on Advanced and High-Impact Research (MAHIR) emphasise on R&D. Then there is the green hydrogen programme that is being developed keeping in mind our future needs. There is a lot of focus on developing the electrical vehicle (EV) infrastructure. The PLI scheme is encouraging the manufacturing of solar panels in India rather than importing them from China. All these programmes are playing an important role in providing resources as well as creating new jobs. 

Has the disconnect between the government, industry and academia been bridged?
This government has been very proactive on that front. As IEEMA, our role is to bridge the gap between the industry and policymakers. Also, the Union Minister of Power & New and Renewable Energy (Raj Kumar Singh) is not only available for discussions at short notice but is also an active participant in all the industry platforms. His sole guidance to us is to scale up capacity by threefold to ensure the economic growth of the country. We get similar support from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The industry has responded positively to these initiatives. They have not only multiplied their capacities multifold but have also seen their revenues double. Admittedly, there are major challenges that need to be actively addressed. While scaling capacities we also need to focus on fundamental issues such as quality, safety, reliability and cost. Failing which, we won’t be able to effectively harness the emerging opportunities. IEEMA is, therefore, working on several programmes like closely collaborating with several MNCs having great processes for our MSME members all over the country. India’s power sector growth story is getting propelled and fuelled with everyone’s participation.

Also, do you see a significantly reduced dependence on Chinese imports?
The government has put in place strong curbs on imports from China. Although we still see a trickle of Chinese equipment in the private sector – which is understandable on account of issues with the manufacturing capacity – there is constant counselling by the concerned government ministries on scaling up capacities and building new technologies to reduce our dependence on external sources. Earlier, smart meter imports used to be in the range of nearly 70 per cent. We have prevailed on our members to bring that down to 30 per cent. IEEMA has a programme called Electroverse for startups, which was initiated ahead of ELECRAMA 2023. We were pleasantly surprised after 100-odd startups sent in their applications. We selected ten to showcase their products at ELECRAMA. The kind of technologies those startups have created in artificial intelligence (AI), EVs, battery storage, carbon capture, etc., is simply mindboggling. For example, to counter the geopolitical challenges in the procurement of lithium-ion for EV batteries, they have come up with sodium-ion technology. The element is easily available in India. Thanks to our engineering talent, most MNCs have their R&D and development centres here. Since, we already have that strength, we now need to harness it to our benefit.

As one of the strongest advocates of the smart grid, how do you see the programme faring?
The advent of AI, smart metering, distribution automation, etc., is changing the dynamics right from the generation to the plug point. Although the movement towards smart grids started a decade ago, its impact will become visible soon. The use of smart meters will ensure that not just the utilities get value for the consumption, but also the consumer can monitor the electricity being used on different devices at home for greater efficiency.

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