In this episode we will be talking to Kartikeya Singh, a director of programs at the SED Fund, where he manages the portfolio to support energy transition efforts around the world. Mr. Singh is also a non-resident fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program. In this conversation, we explore different clean energy technologies and how the US and India can collaborate to help both in their pursuit of a cleaner energy future. Hope you enjoy!
Topics covered in this episode:
1. What spurred Mr. Singh's interest in the energy space
2. Mr. Singh's journey launching a climate youth action organization
3. Insight into what were the key focus areas between US and India is 2016—and how the energy relationship has evolved since then?
4. Near term action steps that you believe the US can take to help facilitate India’s energy transition
5.Electric Vehicle technology collaboration opportunities between the US and India
6. State to state dialogues between the US and India, as well as business transition plans for the large legacy institutions
Are you looking to become a leader in clean energy and an expert in cleantech? Do you hope to get noticed in the crowd as you pursue a career in this fastly growing industry? You are in the right place. Join Karan Takhar as he invites clean energy leaders to share industry developments, highlight cleantech investment opportunities and shed light on how you can increase your chances of employment in this high-growth sector. We will also discuss the energy transition across key emerging markets like India and explore partnership opportunities for the US private and public sector. After all, this is the Zenergy podcast.
00:51 Karan Takhar
In this episode, we will be talking to Kartikeya Singh, director of programs at the SEB Fund, where he manages the portfolio to support energy transition efforts around the world. Mr. Singh is also a nonresident fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the Energy Security and Climate Change program, and with one Erin US India Policy Studies. In this conversation, we explore the areas in which enhanced collaboration between the USA and India should occur to help both in the pursuit of their clean energy future. Hope you enjoy.
Hi, Mr. Singh. Thank you sincerely for taking the time. Could you please briefly introduce yourself so that listeners can get an understanding of the extent of your involvement in the energy sector and also provide some insight into what got you interested in this space?
01:53 Kartikeya Singh
Thanks for having me and for including me in the series, I am Kartikeya Singh, and I am the director of programs currently at the SUB Fund, a foundation based out of the Netherlands interested in the energy transition that has been floating around the world. My Ph.D. is in energy access innovations in India. So I did a lot of fieldwork in rural parts of India. Everything from the Sundarbans in the East of India to my home birthplace state of Rajasthan, and up in the foothills of the himalayas that came right down to southern India to collect data on all the interesting firms that were emerging to provide electricity access to parts of rural India that we're lacking access to electricity for decades and, you know, thanks to the dropping costs of solar and new and improved technologies, there was a lot of journalists Business Innovation was happening so I got tremendous insights into how firms innovate and how they scale up to provide services, energy access services rural India. I was also fortunate to look at the US Department of Energy to help manage the US-India bilateral energy portfolio, which, as you know, is a sort of whole of government complex undertaking, you know, everything from R&D to managing a strategic energy dialogue the two countries have with various different working groups. I think it was seven working groups at the time that I was in Delhi in 2015-2016 and left DOE to be able to work on a State Department-funded initiative that was launched in 2016 when President Obama and Prime Minister Modi met in Washington to facilitate subnational energy ties, and I'm not really turbocharged my understanding, you know, India's energy issues and her priorities because I was tasked to find out what the energy priorities were at the Indian States and met with officials from the Power sector across 19 of Indian states trying to take then what I learned about their priorities to match make and find interesting partners be there advisors or practitioners or those in the commercial space, so we're talking about research universities in the US. They appear such energy officials from US states and, of course, firms coming up with interesting new technologies for the power sector to plug them into India and help facilitate partnerships for India's energy transition or states. A very interesting, I think an understanding of the different levels of energy stakeholders and decision Making and my journey in India and I've been engaged in sort of India energy and climate space more broadly for a long time, having launched the Indian youth climate network back in 2008 with a bunch of young climate activists, and that was quite an undertaking in itself, having chapters in 13. The Indian States and trying to socialize the importance of what is climate change and how to build and be part of a green economy in India for what is largely a young population that matters today, more than ever because India is still a very young population and there's still a lot of opportunity for young people to get involved in creating a green economy or India.
05:09 Karan Takhar
Agreed, I think I saw the average age of the Indian population today is only around like 29 years old, and yeah, that's honestly why I came up with the idea of creating this series to be able to share about all of them in my mind pretty impressive work that is being done in the clean energy space in India with the younger population what led you to create that youth initiative back I think you said 2008.
05:49 Kartikeya Singh
Yeah, I bet, I don't know if that was part of the background you found on me at all. I went to India after college on a one-year sort of visiting Mentor Fellowship. I was parked at the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, a prominent think tank, and Sunita Narayan was my mentor. I thought I was going to go to India to fix any of the climate change and energy policy problems. How my if I was and slept in and, of course, set me straight and said if you want to talk climate, Mindy, I'll talk, you know, energy access Energy poverty, and that's actually what got me a little bit started on doing door to door surveys and villages and how people are interacting with decentralized renewable energy technologies with various kinds everything from Bing cook stoves to micro hydro to biogas solar home lighting systems that the likes of celko we're deploying and around that time in 2007, was going to be the biggest climate summit to have happened in a while in Bali, Indonesia, where the post-Kyoto framework was going to be finally talked about, you know, the theater protocol, the US, Canada Several countries were not a party to Australia as well, so the need for another framework, you know, another sort of protocol or agreement that more nations could adhere to, and the only way I could find an Ave to attend the conference was through a small nonprofit based out of the US called Sustain US. It's the US youth network for the sustainable device, so we were accredited by the electrical to attend, we submitted policy proposals just like any other NGO that you might think of the WRI, WWF, and Greenpeace is the bookings, whoever is going, you know, likes to submit their own sort of policy proposals for consideration, and I got through them accredited to attend. But on the sidelines, I witnessed that there was this whole movement of young people trying to get a seat at the table because climate change is also a conversation about intergenerational equity, and I realized that I was the only youth from India present at the time. They were youth from US, Canada and by that I mean citizens, so at that time I was still you know an Indian citizen and the way you through all over Asia but not from India and decided to go back for my fellowship, remaining fellowship time to address this tonight and I should add that that really kick started, so I was really energized by the youth movement on the sidelines, but I introduced myself to an Indian government official at the time and he, perhaps jokingly but perhaps slightly seriously and maybe this is a cultural issue, said that youth should have the same deal for elders, and that was something that was really difficult for me to swallow, even that I had been brought up also in the US as a first generation immigrant for a majority of my life, and I said, OK, well, I need to go back to India and maybe not focus so much on energy access, but actually focus on building a youth movement that gets young people talking about those climate issue, and to understand how they can participate like how like how to India participate, and so yeah, I went back and ditched the energy access work for awhile and ended up sort of harmlessly creating something called keywords Indian Youth Climate Network, which at that time got it a lot of attention and it was an interesting exercise in in not being, you know, how to set up an institution in India, how to fundraise, how to all the workings of nonprofit management and designing, You know what is our role, Do we just basically activate a network of campus groups that care about sustainability issues on their campuses which is what we did, we also lead the first ever youth delegation to the climate negotiations the following year imposed on Poland, and perhaps the most dramatic and sort of eye-catching thing that we did was a electric car journey from Chennai to New Delhi over 40 days, and this at the time was an electric vehicle called Abreva, which you may have heard of because it was soon after after a load tour thanks to probably great marketing for suceesfull tour acquired by Mahendra. But this was an indigenously manufactured electric car that had been made in India and exported to, I think, Some 90-odd countries, so India, this pre-Tesla, India was already making electric vehicles. We wanted to basically across the country and this indigenously manufactured lithium-ion battery prototype vehicles that really gave us three of cheap money, who's the founder and CEO of Riva and now has his own separate firm trusted us and of youngsters with these two vehicles to drive it across the country, which by the way, at that time 400 million Indian people did not have access to reliable electricity access. So you could imagine driving 2500 kilometers across the country would have been quite remembered taking and indeed of why, and we had a solar-powered block banned from upstate New York Webex, singing Bollywood songs, we had training for business roundtables with things like Infosys football we went into villages. We did, again, college campus sort of workshops on sustainability, climate, and leadership training, we called them. So it was like a traveling circus trying to demonstrate, create, communicate and celebrate. The solution to climate change was called the Climate Solutions Road tour. That kind of helped solidify the ending with climate network and its identity in India, so I was trying to It was what I call vertically integrated activism, doing the stuff with the grassroots, doing stuff like actually energy access work that some of the college groups were doing, doing international policy work to be able to have a seat at the table and be taken seriously by the government, I mean, I'll never forget it was like a very hands-on training and in nonprofit management, in climate activism, in institution building, in kind of early stage technology pilot thing, right? Like driving an electric car in a country that distance was, I think it was a world record at that point, and prior to Tesla, so very cool.
11:25 Karan Thakar
Yeah, very cool That's exactly what I was thinking. That seems like a really interesting experience. So when you drive these electric cars across India, where would you charge them. I imagine, like back then, the electric vehicle infrastructure is probably like very minimal.
11:44 Kartikeya Singh
It was very minimal, and we had to do a recce, uh, reconnaissance sort of mission in advance. We knew the vehicles could travel up to 120 to 200 kilometers. We were told they could go a certain kilometer per full charge, and then we realized, right, b efore the tour started in Chennai, it was not as high as promised, or like we shouldn't go as high as it could because we might do a deep drain situation on the battery. It would be problematic, so every 120 kilometers, we had to stop to charge. So in advance of the trip, you know, I did a road tour in a conventional vehicle from Bangalore to Hyderabad, and then Hyderabad to Pune. So that was the sort of dark spot on the map of trying to figure out where every 120 kilometers could be possibly stopped actually to charge these vehicles, and you know, one of the more interesting places where the petrol station where I stopped in the place petrol station approached the manager. We must have owned the land, the farm that exists table and had decided to be a franchise owner of Indian oil and have the petrol station. I asked him if, three months from now, a bunch of people would come in something called an electric car. They need this particular style of this particular charge or voltage plug point to plug in their vehicles; you know, it's all very abstract, and I do have this. He took me to the back of the petrol station where there was a shed, and there was a sugar cane pressing or cutting machine that was electric. He showed me the socket, and I was like, yes, this is what I need, and so, like that became, that became a scheduled stop on a very carefully crafted Road tour, and so it stops like that that we had to do to make this happen because we didn't run out of charge at all at that time. We even had to, like, cut the cord and like, you know, make it truly function. You know, in one case, at a particular hotel where we stayed to make sure that we could get the muffled page out of the socket, and the socket was the problem, not the voltage. Yeah, we managed to make it work. Still, it required a lot of pre-planning a lot of teams and being with climate networks in cities to organize events around our arrival, like here the local solutions to climate change that you should document, which we then put onto a website here. This sort of we're going to engage the political business roundtable. We're going to do a workshop at a college campus. We're going to meet the mayor of this city, like all of that had to be pre-planned by the local IYCM chapters.
14:10 Karan Takhar
Do you see electric vehicles as a central technology in the transport sector in India to the same level as other, maybe more developed countries over time?
14:30 Kartikeya Singh
Yeah, we were very mindful, and our local messaging personnel, we're coming in four-wheeled private vehicles electric. A climate solution is not for everyone to have a car. I deal with a climate solutions tour, It would have been the Indian Railways that we would have engaged with, and that was part two of our plan, which never materialized. There were a couple of lessons that I have learned from that, which is an India has their minds and the technological know-how to be able to generate hard and soft technologies, hardware, and software to meet the climate crisis if that means electrifying transport, but India has demonstrated it right,
I said that this vehicle was already being exported by labor to many, many countries prior to the arrival of Tesla. It was later acquired by Mahendra, a big and then auto conglomerate, so they know how to own the innovation the electrified transport exists in India. I think the government is putting forth money into this space increasingly now we've seen that there's, of course, a lot of focus on enabling the ecosystem through charging infrastructure, which will need to be in place and both procurement of vehicles to drive the market demands that I think now everybody really wants to own the value to the manufacture of vehicles, and that's fine too I think that will need to happen. Then they already have a strong automotive manufacturing industry to make that transition happen. But I think ultimately, our electric vehicles, and like four-wheel electric vehicles, are the solution to India, and I think it's more like an electrified India. We are at a point in time where the delivery of services through the electron is finally more powerful and can take you further than the oil and gas molecule. So I think India has shown that it can develop large-scale renewable energy projects that have shown record low prices, including just today, another parcel of the multiplication renewable energy parcel of land, the parcel of at least 1500 MW. Learn about a Jew Solar Park that has reached a remarkable new tariff through a power purchase agreement auction that was just entered by the government there, so the renewable energy, Levelized cost of energy is now less than coal in India It's, of course, that it's variable There is a need for storage, but a clean electron can certainly be used to move people around, and I see tremendous scope for that in two wheelers I see tremendous scope for that in two dealers also in rural areas where there's a lot of need for transportation, and then I think the four Wheelers, the prices will come down and I think the buses are being rectified into both ways is electrifying. So I think it's not just the vehicles of the solution, but it's part of the electrify everything planned, but try to move.
17:11 Karan Takhar
And do you see a solid Avenue for the US to be able to partner with India, specifically in the electric vehicle space?
17:23 Kartikeya Singh
Yeah, there are a couple of different ways to do that. There's already a very credible joint AMD project, a partnership with the exclude energy research, which had important time for public knowledge is through components to it for joint R&D in that sort of innovation space, you could certainly add electric vehicle R&D workstream true that, and that's sort of trying to address the R&D side of the question then there's sort of institutional innovations and policy innovation support and incredibly or not, their stuff. Even the US could learn from India because Indian states are at varying levels of progress in developing electric vehicle policies. For example, Karnataka, which was the first state to come out with an electric vehicle in an energy storage policy, wanted to actually that, uh, battery Innovation Center and EV R&D center to be able to actually, you know, again be a part of the innovation value chain of the type Knology and then get a foothold in the manufacturing space. So Hyderabad Battery Innovation Center in both states has a sister state agreement. So that was one of the things that point out that the advice I was trying to say, you know, there's an existing sort of state-to-state relationship where focus on sort of battery innovation could very much be a part of the conversation and understanding how Indiana setup that consortium companies and what sort of incentives are provided and which university links them up to could be a model that they're not like. I could perhaps replicate and implement the incredible Research university networks, but also many of the firms that exist in India. So that's another type of collaboration that I think is incredibly important, and then, you know, through the work that we also facilitated at CSIS between Colorado and Gujarat, I know that there was a lot of knowledge sharing between the two states on how, you know, they set up procurement policies and tariffs that were set, and the Gujrat has just come up with its own electric vehicle policy that is empowered, been informed by Colorado and Colorado is very interested in sort of the battery swapping kind of model that was emerging in India. So, yeah, I think there are lots to be done, and of course, those software providers that are trying to focus on the charging side of the equation that the commercial opportunities like in both directions as both countries, and electrify transport. So yeah, I think there could be a very natural relationship between electric vehicle R&D, manufacturing, and policy design between the two countries.
19:43 Karan Takhar
Very interesting. Thank you so much for expanding on that and that experience back in 2008. I wish I could have joined that trip; that seems like the ideal type of experience in India. I would try and travel as much as I could so that I feel like something like that is just a super transformation also.
20:07 Kartikeya Singh
Exactly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
20:10 Karan Takhar
So I know that you worked at the DOE in 2015 to 2016. What were some of the key focus areas of the US engagement during that time with India in the energy space, and how do you feel like that engagement has sort of evolved over time to maybe the current day where now you feel these are the areas where the US can really play an instrumental role in helping India with its clean energy transition.
20:44 Kartikeya Singh
One of the key pillars of US-India's bilateral ties is energy cooperation. Then we've seen, you know, everything from the civil nuclear agreement, which really kind of kick started a lot of that deeper energy cooperation work and entrance on the US-India ties, in general, has been a key part for the relationship that the energy cooperation book so, and it has seen an evolution, right? When India was extremely in a power deficit, and there was the cheapest source of electricity going to be cold, there was considerable focus on coal corporations between the two countries, and I think rightfully as the sort of changing economics, energy economics, and the energy landscape. Sort of technological landscape has shifted and obviously the the the need to address the climate crisis has also shifted, and as Indian ambition to integrate and develop their little energy projects, I was shifted we must have kind of continue to change its ability its stance on how it engages India on this topic and so I think when I was in DOE, I was working in 7 different working groups which were fit for purpose at that time and many of these working groups still exist and have been an important part of the bilateral ties I'm not dismissing any of them because they are critical We've all played a critical role in their time. I think there's at this moment sometime I think we need a clear need to focus on where India's energy priorities are, which is to meet an incredibly ambitious renewable energy deployment target, and a desire to decarbonize and to make the electric grid more efficient, to make the most economical energy choices, and to capitalize on the fact that one out of every 7.00 dollars according to the energy outlooks scenarios by 2030 or one out of every 7.00 dollars in the world spent little energy and energy storage technologies are going to be spent on any. Yeah. So I think that if you listen to energy ties, you'd focus on making sure that India owns more of the renewable energy value chain, and I think it's also in the US interest. So you know, the quad, which is a geopolitical alignment between Australia, Japan, India, and the US, just talked about creating a working group on critical minerals supply chains. I think having an immediate working group between US and India and a critical mineral supply chain establishment is going to be key to advancing and modernizing the US-India energy ties to meet this moment they used to be when I was actually a working group on coal, which I understand no longer exists, and it sounded kind of folded into the power and energy working group, I would say that you know, now there's a time to focus on how we like actually transition from coal because there are significant retirements on the end goal in India, their lots of dependence that have happened on the yes side there are major questions about just transition and how to make sure that people, lives and livelihoods are secured as this transition is happening. We are incredibly fortunate to be living in a time of technological advancement and kind of an ethical and moral belief that we need to make sure that nobody is left behind as this transition is made because entire state economies and communities that are dependent on coal will be impacted as the transition bills forward, and I think there's tremendous opportunity to share what's happened or happening in the US and what has happened or happening and will happen in India, as this transition moves. it will not always be the case because so much of India's power does come from coal. It may be the case for a little while longer, but the transition is on there, You know, minds are becoming unprofitable to our closing, and power plants are not meeting emissions norms. So I do think that there's a conversation to be had on on how to successfully transition successfully, safely, securely and I think that there needs to be assistance, continued insistence and focus on how utilities can be transformed to operating it's tremendously dynamic time advantage of managing an energy transition, incorporating innovation students at the same time and that's difficult for them when they are loss-making, which I think continued focus to engage with Danielle State-owned utilities and enterprises key there was a focus on on gas and the energy ties between the two countries and might continue to be, but I think, and I think this has already happened one of my recommendations earlier this year was that there needs to be a at new talk focusing on green hydrogen and this is also an opportunity to create jobs to help transitional, large state-owned and private or impact companies the likes of Indian oil, which is already making inroads and providing pilots and test beds what a hydrogen-based off supply chain could look like and how the firm compared element. We also saw Reliance announcing in their Reliance Industries, saying they are looking forward to producing hydrogen. So I think that should very much be the focus moving forward, and this sort of data needed earlier, like the Indian government spent a lot of money managing to electrify nearly every household providing infrastructure that connects nearly every home to the National Grid or providing off-grid systems that were sub hydration highly, you know, successful meeting this target now, what needs to happen is demand stimulation people need to consume electrons to help recuperate these costs, and nothing could meet and check all the boxes of it could bring those costs, making the attorneys fiscally solvent and helping decarbonize with power grid than and electrify and leading kind of initiative, and this is where there is a bit of a mismatch between, you know, a gas-based economy which India would like to have. Maybe there is some, and not really an electricity-based economy, which is something to really capitalize on because the electron is more powerful than the gas molecule in this case and provides certain services, and the infrastructure is already there, so why not strengthen it? So I think, and you know, application of transport comes under all of this coupling household appliance, and then continued focus on innovation, which I know that we will continue to sort of happen. You know, they would have energy storage and smart grids as I would leave entirely. That was one of the last things that I had a hand in pushing out and I think the next natural step is sort of focus on energy storage and electric vehicles, on designing states based innovation ecosystems on making Indian states more resilient to economic shocks, on sorting of drive more innovation and job creation that is inherent in how their economies operate from there's lots of learning from US states that have done more, and I, yeah. So I would say these are kind of the key things that I would focus on in my sort of playbook for where the energy partnership can go and then, in some cases, already has started to go.
27:09 Karan Takhar
That makes a lot of sense in terms of identifying investment opportunities to help India transition away from coal. A recommendation from your incredible article titled Meeting India Net Zero Moment was to prepare business transition plans informed by analysis for state-owned enterprises such as Coal, India Limited, and Indian Railways really curious to hear what you believe these business transition plans could look like, Can you provide some insight into that?
27:48 Kartikeya Singh
Yeah, you know, I'm a systems-level thinker, and I, I would say that let's take in orders for example, right? They generate a lot of revenue from the transportation of Coal, tomorrow if there were no coal, that would be a problem because it would have an impact on their cash flows would then have a ripple effect on their ability to cross-subsidized transportation access so many millions who currently, you know, really traveled from styles for because they can't afford it. So how can we ensure that people still have access to cheap ways to get around using railways? It has enough money to be a modern transportation network, and it's able to generate revenue. So I think a business transition plan for railroads would help figure out how we would manage the gradual decline of revenue from transporting coal all to something else. I don't know what that looks like right now, and that's why I'm saying that, because this transition plan needs to look at that in many always holds considerable amounts of land. It's doing tremendous work in monetizing railway land, you know, in station redevelopment projects and through public-private partnerships for stationary development across India. What are other things that they do that could generate revenue that would take that plant in the gradual manner declining revenues from the whole? Similarly, for Coal India, which obviously mandate is to produce whole tomorrow, if it's not digging up more of that rock, what is it doing? Can it be doing what it's actually already starting to do, Which is quite remarkable, which is providing manufacturing would not send laborers and solar modules, you know, the stuff that India needs more of in-house in the country for its solar developers have already perfected the art of structuring and designing solar parks and power purchase agreements that are quite successful, but you know they have to import large amounts of adding a little energy components and technology components? So I think they could be very well making other things gradually, right, so it's not going to happen overnight. Still, from a business perspective, it just makes sense because these are state-owned enterprises, and people's pensions depend on them. But that kind of thinking, and I do think it's already starting to happen, which is great. So where there's a willingness to really turbocharge those efforts, I think people's jobs will be secured. The companies will be part of and brought into the future of the energy transition explored rather than just become relics of about us, and I think that's more risk to something like colon double Indian rulers. Honestly, railways are still going to be needed. But like the colon, it could be the provider of energy still and energy components in the Indian economy. I just in to pray.
30:25 Karan Takhar
Got it. I know we only have a few minutes left. I want to be respectful of your time, so I think I'll just conclude by asking you, which I always ask my guess. Still, I'm very curious to hear your answer if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, just reflecting through the lens of your experience and what your fears were after graduating or early aspirations.
30:57 Kartikeya Singh
Yeah, I mean, you only get to be under 30 for so long. I guess one of my years was the rush to sort of go through grad school and like set my life up and be on a particular firm, economically secure pass. I think taking a little bit of a deviation and ending up sort of running a startup social enterprise, there's probably high risk, and I'm glad I did it. I think this is probably advice that I gave to young people on college campuses during my time doing that kind of work, was that, you know, like, take the rest, don't be afraid of failure. I think about there are so many incredible minds coming out of the Indian university system every year that go into the very important, necessary reasons or, you know, going to economically secure opportunities and jobs. Still, I think sometimes people are really passionate about being in the social sector. Still, I just don't know where to do it or how to or maybe don't have the opportunity, frankly, but like, should that opportunity present itself, I'm glad that I took it, and I would encourage others to take it, provided that it's within their means because it can be deeply transformative. Those as you age, those opportunities to take those risks are limited. So you know somebody is going to present you with prototype electric vehicles to drive across the country as part of a traveling circus that you have to organize My advice would be to do it because it can really be a tremendous insight and show you what you're really capable of even doing I think there was some hesitancy to take that, and it took the convincing of some friends to make me do it. But I, as I said, I'm really glad I did, and it sort of I didn't leave the pathway to understanding what India's journey has been in its sort of energy transition and where it can be.
32:42 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much, Mr. Singh. Really appreciate you taking the time. Yeah.
32:50 Kartikeya Singh
Thanks for having me.
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