28 February 2020

Table of Contents for Powerzone

Interview-Ravikant Malhan (Schneider Electric India)

India has got its concept of ‘inclusive’ Smart Cities right

Offering a rich basket of product solutions, integrated state-of-the-art software and international expertise in the area of Smart Cities, global specialist energy management company Schneider Electric, is looking to be among the principal players in the Government of India’s plan to develop 100 Smart Cities. RAVI KANT MALHAN, DIRECTOR AND HEAD BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, SMART CITIES AND SPECIAL PROJECTS, SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC INDIA, spoke to SHRIKANT RAO on the sidelines of a conference in Mumbai


In what way is Schneider Electric looking to contribute to the Smart Cities Zone?
We are very competent to advise the decision makers in government, the end user, the stakeholders and the consultants. Globally Schneider does what is a called top down, bottoms up, sleeve rolled up approach – that means that we understand the bottom most layer of operational technology; which is what it takes to set up such cities, the products, sensors, instruments and the machine itself. We have the know-how, the competence and experience to advise the government on how we should plan such developments, how to fund them; things like what a tender should look like, information such as why old tenders have not succeeded, what difficulties one might face if we only take the PPP route etc. Our advisory role extends from the ministry of urban development to the ministry of commerce to the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Corporation and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) down to sitting with the consultant AECOM and telling them what they need to do.
Could you attempt an evaluation of what India need right now?
That is a very long answer but the end result is that India needs these Smart Cities. If she doesn’t get this right she is going to miss the opportunity of a lifetime. If you look at the energy bill and at its composition – how much of it is import and foreign currency and look at the strain it puts on the fiscal deficit and our budget – and imagine if you could save 30 per cent of that and get the remaining 70 per cent out of which 20 per cent will be from renewables, in five years we could be a economic superpower. Now where do you begin such a very big exercise? Every small step we take should be in the same direction. This means that there should be focus. We can’t be doing too many things at one time and get confused in the process.
Is it your reading that there is real urgency in the portals of power to get the Smart Cities programme under way soon?
As of now we see a very high sense of urgency, there is on their part not just a sense of very patient listening but also a high sense of wanting to do things. Under the last government I recall we may have had one or two meetings with the Ministry of Urban Development’s core group, this time around I am not able to keep up with the engagements.  They regularly keep asking for advice.  They are not waiting, saying that we will listen to Schneider today, IBM next week, CISCO next month, then Accenture after that. They want everybody to come together, to fix timelines and get into action.
At this point of time what is the status and what will be the next operational step?
They have come out with the concept paper which is on the 100 brownfield cities, which relates to existing cities which will be made smarter. The greenfield ones one knows of are Dholera and Naya Raipur. The concept paper is being commented upon. It was contributed to by all major players like IBM and Schneider Electric who played a key role, and who said this is what you should be thinking of. You can’t just graft a solution there, you have to adapt it, customise it. India is a different ball game. So they took down all our inputs, faithfully reproduced them in a concept note and then again invited comments. This was not to buy time but only so that the planning cannot go wrong. If in the fundamental steps you make a mistake we will land up with huge problems.  Right now the status is that we have all commented, and even as we speak the final paper should be coming up. Then the name of the cities will come and the tendering will start.
What is Schneider’s action now?
Good intentions alone are not enough, especially when you don’t have the money. So we have to see how to translate this decisive will, the competence that the government has, and those that the industry brings, into something which works. That is what we are working on. We are working on issues like the type of equipment to be used, vendor qualifications, terms of the contract, the conditions required to succeed and so on.
Tell us about ICT adoption and the likely gap there will be between the global smart cities and the ones being planned here in India?
Interestingly this gap is working to our advantage. Global smart cities came more as an afterthought. Their birth had more to do with climatic changes: the countries in which they came up had abundance of energy, less population, availability of land and almost no scarcity of resources; yet the people there thought let us become smart, let’s have intelligent traffic lights so that they could save some fuel which could contribute to sustainability. For India Smart Cities are a crying need; not a noble thought. Our cities are concrete jungles where the infrastructure is falling apart. For us Smart Cities are more of an urgent need. For us it is a convergence of things that we need to have smart cities. Schneider Electric has gathered valuable lessons from 200 Smart Cities worldwide so we know what went wrong, what succeeded and what should not have been done. So there are a lot of hard learnings there.
Could you name the Smart Cities of the world which in your perception are successful and the ones that are not?
The successful ones are Dallas, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Boston and the unsuccessful ones are Songdo and Masdar.
What are the elements of a Smart City which India should be looking to emulate?
Sitting with the MOUD people I realise we have got our concept right. We may be only one of two countries for which in our definition of Smart Cities, ‘inclusive’ is an important part. We want the development to be citizen centric. We want the one who is less privileged to be part of this growth and get the same rights. We don’t want them to leave villages behind and get their workers here on cheap cost. We want government, governance, transparency and accountability to be available on mobile devices. So that chap can ask, “Why the hell is this not working?”  That is inclusiveness.
Does India have the wherewithal for smart construction particularly when they talk of a huge skill deficit?
Who made Dubai and Singapore? Who made Hiranandani Complex in Mumbai? Indian labourers are excellent. There has never been a dearth of competency, only a lack of focus. If we get that right we can achieve anything. The industry is positive. All said and done we still are a growing economy while hardly any other country is growing.  They all are looking at us. The US wants to make 3 smart cities here while the Japanese want to make 5 of them. Everybody wants to help us make our cities smart.
There is a cynical view which suggests that Smart Cities are non starters?
I don’t think so. We should be patient and give them time. I won’t say this just because it suits my business but for the first time I am noticing honest intentions and a strong will. That is a reality. The bureaucracy and the speed of decision making have gone through a revolutionary change. People are questioning and demanding action and that has led to greater engagement and accountability.  For example to understand the business better, Schneider Electric did an ICT survey with the help of an external agency of 100 Indian cities – of which at least 90 should become Smart Cities – to assess their budget for ICT. The question asked was: Do you have the money to convert this dream? We got it on record that the allocation was minimal. So we went back to the government saying “Excuse me you are planning to buy a Mercedes but there is no money?” We told them we met up with 5000 bureaucrats and came up with this. So they know now they will be question.
What would it cost to build an average Smart City?
In the case of a greenfield city built from scratch I would divide the answer into two parts: if the city is without the smart city element then the cost would be say `100, but with the smart component it will cost you `135, or 35 per cent more, but the benefits over the life of the city, over the inclusiveness, sustainability, energy consumption and carbon dioxide footprint will far outweigh this 35 per cent. When you have that in mind you can’t be short sighted.
Is finance available for such projects?
The government plans to develop 100 smart cities through public-private partnership aimed at improving transport, infrastructure, housing and communication solutions but it  is expecting a lot from private parties. The target for the Twelfth Plan was $1 trillion. Nothing happened. They were expecting $500 billion to come from private business but that too hasn’t come because of the complexities of doing business, and multiple agencies clearing proposals. They are now trying to sort those out.
From a Schneider Electric perspective what can one expect in our upcoming smart cities? 
The transportation will be very smart, traffic will improve drastically. Power problems will be resolved to a large extent and people will have safe, reliable and green power.

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