Edited excerpts of the interaction between Dr RA Mashelkar and Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of RIL.
Dr RA Mashelkar: So, a very, very warm welcome to you, Mukesh bhai. Truly grateful to you that you accepted our invitation to have this fireside chat from our Pune International Centre. Thank you very much.
Mr Mukesh Ambani: Thank you, Dr Mashelkar for your kind words. You have always encouraged me, and I have always looked up to your mentorship and your guidance as I am virtually in Pune in this virtual world.
Let me begin by paying my homage to my very good friend and an eminent citizen of Pune, Shri Rahul Bajaj, who passed away recently.
He was my senior and one of India’s most respected industrialists.
My heartfelt condolences to his family.
I warmly congratulate the Pune International Centre for organising this important summit.
Pune has always been a reputed centre of education, arts, culture and industry.
Along with its strengths in manufacturing, Pune has also become a formidable hub of IT industry.
Now, with events like this one, Pune has earned a place on the global map of intellectual discourse.
I am sure Pune International Centre will scale new heights of prestige and influence.
And this is because it has the leadership of two men of vision and action whom I deeply respect and admire.
You, Dr Mashelkar, are a Guru of Science and Technology.
You have planted in all of us at Reliance the seed of disruptive innovation, and for me everything that you introduced was really implementation of your vision.
So, I don’t want to take that credit. All of us at Reliance will forever be grateful to you to have built in Reliance and our young people this DNA of innovation, inventing and trying to do what no one else has done.
The other leader at Pune International Centre, Dr Vijay Kelkar.
Again, he is one that I have looked up to for decades and he has not only with his vast knowledge of the economy of how India works, finance.
When I was very young and he was chairman of the BICP, he had mentioned to me, “Look young man, government can never be a profit guaranty corporation”.
And to hear that in the early 80’s, really formed my vision of the world and I am ever grateful for him and to build Reliance as an institution which competes fairly and fearlessly with the rest of the world.
I think that I rarely look upon and thank Dr Kelkar for all the advice and the influence he has had over me over the past decades.
So, for me it is a particular pleasure to be with all of you, I wish I could have been there physically, but times are getting too long and it’s really a privilege to be amongst both of you together. So, thank you for this opportunity.
Dr Mashelkar: Thank you, thank you very much Mukesh bhai for your most gracious, most kind words. Mukesh bhai, as you know we at Pune International Centre are holding Economic Dialogue 2022 with the support and the blessings of our External Affairs Ministry.
Our theme this year as you know is ‘The Resilient Growth’ In the Post Pandemic World. And before we begin our discussion.
Before we begin our discussion on ‘Green Energy for Sustainable Future’, may I ask you about your thoughts on Asia’s future and the place of India in it particular?
Mr Mukesh Ambani: Well, Dr Mashelkar, it is becoming more obvious with each passing year that the 21st century will be Asia’s Century.
The centre of gravity of the global economy has clearly shifted to Asia.
From the 1st to the 18th century, Asia was leading the world in global GDP.
After suffering a retreat in the last two centuries, Asia is now making a strong comeback.
In 2020, Asia’s GDP as we all know overtook the GDP of the rest of the world combined.
By 2030, the Asian region is expected to contribute roughly 60% of global growth.
We should remember here that Asia accounts for 60% of the world’s population.
More Asians will join the middle class in the next two decades than the combined population of all other continents.
Which means, Asia is leading the march towards a more inclusive global economy.
The mismatch between DEMOGRAPHY and DEVELOPMENT is closing.
All this goes to show that a RESURGENT ASIA will contribute to a MORE EQUAL WORLD.
This is a most welcome trend.
This trend is also reinforced by the fact that India is likely to overtake Japan as Asia’s second-largest economy, and the world’s third largest economy, by 2030.
Dr Mashelkar, I am very confident that the India Growth Story will be as exciting, if not more exciting, than China’s in the decades to come.
It is India’s Time!
Dr Mashelkar: Wonderful, that’s so, so inspiring 21st century as Asia centric.
Mukesh bhai let me now turn to our theme, which is Green Energy for our sustainable world.
Let me begin by asking you: Why Green Energy? Or in your words why New Energy?
Mr Mukesh Ambani: Well, to my mind, the answer is very simple and well known.
All of us as humanity have only one planet.
THERE IS NO PLANET B.
The only planet in the entire universe which is home to human life and to countless other living species is Planet Earth.
And Planet Earth is facing an existential crisis because of Climate Change.
The Climate Crisis is essentially Energy Crisis.
The excessive use of fossil fuels in the past two hundred years has gravely endangered the fragile ecology of the planet.
Of course, it has brought prosperity to a large part of the global community.
But this prosperity has been at the cost of the planet’s environment and ecosystem….and is therefore unsustainable.
Climate Change is the biggest threat today to mankind’s future wellbeing.
It is an even graver threat to plant and animal species, which are indeed our “PLANETARY RELATIVES”.
After all, humans, animals and trees are not adversaries competing for space on this planet. They are linked by countless forms of co-operation and symbiosis.
As a lover of wildlife and nature myself, and as someone who likes to spend time in nature parks and wildlife sanctuaries, I can tell you that we have a responsibility to conserve all these precious gifts of Mother Nature and pass them on to our future generations.
Therefore, the transition from Old Energy to New, Green and Clean Energy is not an option; it is an urgent imperative.
Our very survival depends on how quickly we embrace planet-friendly renewables like solar, wind and hydrogen.
One more thing: Energy Transition will also determine Geopolitical Transition in the 21st century.
As you know, Dr Mashelkar, when wood was replaced with coal, Europe overtook India and China to emerge the world leader.
Similarly, with the emergence of oil, the US and West Asia outgrew others.
When India becomes not only self-sufficient in Green and Clean Energy, but also a large exporter, it will help India emerge as a global power.
India will demonstrate that prosperity for all people and prosperity for our planet are not mutually contradictory goals.
This transition will have other benefits as well, such as a huge number of GREEN JOBS.
It will also mean massive foreign exchange savings, since Energy and Electronics are today India’s biggest import bills.
Finally, Green and Clean Energy ensures better health and better quality of life for everyone on the planet.
Therefore, I believe that the transition to NEW ENERGY will indeed lead to a new EARTH-FRIENDLY INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
Dr Mashelkar: Yah, that’s very interesting – EARTH-FRIENDLY INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
Mukesh bhai, I have heard about Industrial Revolutions that moved from Industry 1.0 to 2.0, to 3.0 to 4.0, but not EARTH-FRIENDLY INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
It sounds very, very interesting.
Can you please explain this grand vision of yours to our audience of Asia Economic Dialogue 2022?
Mr Mukesh Ambani: So, Dr Mashelkar, if we see the trajectory of the first three Industrial Revolutions, we find that they basically disrupted the harmony between human beings and nature.
The economic growth in the past few centuries was premised on the principle of control and exploitation of nature and natural resources or earth’s resources.
In contrast, the transition to GREEN AND CLEAN ENERGY represents a disruption of a reverse kind.
I think we are now beginning to learn from MOTHER NATURE.
Our new energy technologies are mimicking Mother Nature insofar as they convert sunshine and hydrogen in water into energy.
Mother Nature has also created a virtuous Carbon Cycle, in which carbon is not a liability but an asset.
In course of time, Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technologies will attain scale and help reduce the carbon load in the atmosphere.
There is another way in which NEW ENERGY represents an Earth-Friendly Industrial Revolution.
In the era of fossil fuels, industrial activities are highly centralised.
This is because coal and oil are centralised in their origin and have to be transported to large distances.
In contrast, in the coming era of ABUNDANT and AFFORDABLE CLEAN AND GREEN ENERGY, with utility-scale battery storage, it is possible to envision that every house, every farm, factory and habitat could, in principle, could free itself from the grid by generating its own power.
The world is also developing technologies that use less land to produce all the more we need. You always say that “more from less”, and that is what is happening at a world scale all around us.
Which means, we can earmark more land for forests, which also acts as natural carbon sequesters.
This is what I mean by the need to transition from INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION to ECOLOGICAL REVOLUTION or EARTH-FRIENDLY INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
This vision of an Earth-friendly Industrial Revolution has prompted Reliance to adopt CARE FOR THE PLANET, along with CARE FOR THE PEOPLE, as the guiding principle of everything we do in all our businesses and philanthropic activities.
Dr Mashelkar: Oh, that is fantastic, and Mukesh bhai you have often talked about the 3Ds, namely Digitalization, Decentralisation and Decarbonisation.
And Reliance has been of course deeply involved in all three Ds. But you also always talked about your dream of India that is not a follower, but a leader. India as a leader.
Can India emerge a global New Energy leader?
Mr Mukesh Ambani: I have absolutely no doubt that India can, and India will emerge as a global New Energy leader.
Just see yesterday, we were amongst the first in the world where our Renewable Energy Minister announced Hydrogen pumps.
While the world is still grappling with this, we have put our vision of exporting Green Energy out of India on the table. So, we are early, I believe that our Prime Minister believes in ensuring that this next generation of Indians will not only be self-sufficient and Atmanirbhar in our energy, but India can export Green Energy.
And my optimism and confidence really stems from three reasons.
First: India is a country full of entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and youth.
Second: We now have proactive and forward-looking policy support and action from the government, both at the central and the state level.
Third: Our entrepreneurs now have assured financing options.
Let me elaborate Dr Mashelkar, I have immense faith in the ability of our young entrepreneurs.
They are highly ambitious and highly talented, and I’m fortunate to see a lot of them in action all-around.
I foresee at least 20-30 new Indian companies in the energy and tech space which will grow as big as Reliance, if not bigger, in the next 10-20 years.
Let me put this in perspective for our audience.
It took Reliance about 15 years to become a $ 1 billion company.
30 years to become a $ 10 billion company.
35 years to become a $ 100 billion company.
And 38 years to touch $ 200 billion company.
I have no doubt that the next generation of Indian entrepreneurs will achieve this in half the time.
What this also means is that India’s community of entrepreneurs will become broader and wealth creation will also become more inclusive.
This will make India a more Equal Nation.
Let me make another prediction.
India’s Technology and Digital exports have risen to $150 bn from less than $10 billion 20 years ago.
By 2030, I believe they will exceed half a trillion dollars.
Similarly, India’s Clean and Green Energy exports in the next 20 years at the end of 20 years also has the potential of half a trillion dollars of export.
If the last 20 years, we were known for India’s emergence as an IT superpower; next 20 years, I believe, along with technology, will mark our emergence as a superpower in ENERGY and LIFE SCIENCES.
What is commendable is that the New Energy businesses in India are standing on their own two feet, with their own entrepreneurship, and very little support of or basis of any great government subsidies.
Technological progress will make energy affordable on the basis of commercial viability; and it will be technology, and the entrepreneurial spirit, and the new business model that gives values to customer that will drive the business and not government subsidies. And that’s encouraging about the new energy opportunities that I see.
Dr Mashelkar: Oh, that’s so inspiring. Such an awesome vision Mukesh bhai.
But as we know our feet are on ground and there is always a concern that technology must be backed up by policy, investments. Do you foresee any hurdles there?
Of course, your effort to progressive policy, but want to just revisit this particular part, so that we know how we are going and your views in terms of the future.
Mr Mukesh Ambani: Well, let me share with you, my perspective.
India is today one of the most attractive opportunity for renewable energy investment anywhere in the world.
As far as policy is concerned, at least I believe that the Government of India is extremely committed to promoting New Energy.
And among all countries in the world, we have been proactive, unlike the past, and I believe that we are the leading edge of policy development, and all of these policies are transparent and pro-consumer.
And the commitment begins at the highest level — from our Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi himself, right from the days of Gujarat, as you know. Like he is a big proponent of Renewable and Clean Energy.
The government is proactive in meeting the financing needs of New Energy sector.
The recent announcement in Union Budget about the launch of Sovereign Green Bonds is a step in that direction.
India achieved its target of 40% power generation of renewables of the target that was set for 2030, in 2021 itself. And I believe that we will be ahead of this target.
India aims to achieve 500 GW of renewable power capacity, which I am sure we will meet. So, right now on the basis of what I see, I am very optimistic.
Dr Mashelkar: Wonderful, wonderful. This is very, very rare. Mukesh Bhai, you always tell us about speed, scale and sustainability in which again Reliance is leader. So, coming to India. So, coming to India, what are the other factors that will favour India’s transition to New Energy with speed and scale? Because time is that of essence and impacting the largest number of population is the big challenge. So, what are those factors for fast transition?
Mr Mukesh Ambani: So, Dr Mashelkar, you and I both believe that India’s progress is unstoppable. We will become 5-trillion-dollar economy, and we will become 10-trillion-dollar-economy. We can only argue about whether it happens in 2025 or 2027 or whether in 2030 or 2032. So, when that happens, the quality of life of every Indians has to improve. Today, our per capita energy consumption is one-third of the world.
I think for quality of life of all Indians, India’s own domestic demand for Energy will be enormous.
Indians are already known for having one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyles. An average Indian’s annual carbon emissions is about one-fifth that of an average Chinese or one-eighth of an average American. So, even if it increases, we will be able to handle it.
In fact, an average Indian’s carbon emissions are less than half of the world average. Indians won’t have to make too many lifestyle changes to become carbon neutral.
India’s per capita income today is around $2,000, compared to Europe’s $38,000.
I believe that with our progress, we will reach $10,000 per capita in the next 15-20 years.
This will increase our energy demand.
And at the same time, we will be able to meet our incremental energy at affordable rates because of the progress that we are making in technology, because of the abundance of renewable resources that nature has blessed our country with.
So, I believe that India will be among the fastest growing large economy and our energy needs are going to double in next couple of decades.
India will overtake the European Union as the world’s third-largest economy. In my view, by sometime around 2030-2032.
So, India has to address three challenges.
One, India must increase energy output to drive double-digit GDP growth, and we have to do it at an affordable basis of the use of technology.
Second, India must increase the share of Green and Clean Energy in this enhanced output.
And third, India must achieve the goal of ‘Self-reliance or Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in pursuing the above two challenges.
This of course, cannot happen overnight. For the next 2-3 decades, India’s dependence on coal and imported oil will continue.
But we must have a plan to eliminate that in the next 2-3 decades.
Hence, in the near and medium term, we will have to follow LOW-CARBON, and NO-CARBON, strategies of development.
Affordable and abundant supply of clean energy will enable every Indian an improved standard of living without disturbing the ecological balance.
And this generation has the responsibility to put a successive generation on path whereby we remain perpetually clean. We have the responsibility of the transition generation.
Dr Mashelkar: I think this is very, very exciting as a scientist, technologist I look at these grand challenges and find them extremely interesting. The issue is following, I mean there are all this new energies, technologies some of which we are creating, some of which we are adopting but again the essence is doing it swiftly.
Mr Mukesh Ambani: Well, I think from my experience and my perspective, this is modular and decentralised. When we build a centralised plants or when even build say nuclear plants for energy, they take a lot of upfront design, they take a lot of infrastructure, and they take between 4-6 years.
What happens in the decentralised energy world, is yes, you take some time to innovate, get the product right, then there is the modular execution. So, this is the same as the exponential change, right.
We all know that in linear, if you walk twenty steps, you walk twenty meters. If you walk twenty exponential steps, you will go twenty times around the world.
Cleary, I think all of us will be surprised by the rate at which technology catches up, because it is decentralised and modular.
Dr Mashelkar: Yes, Mukesh Bhai, right from Pappa’s time, phone call at a cost of a postcard to your days, when you said voice is free, you have always set audacious targets, and you recently announced such an audacious target, can we talk a little about the one world target that has excited the whole world?
Mr Mukesh Ambani: We really believe that in the next one decade, we have to make sure that all these technologies that I mentioned will bring cost of green hydrogen at a dollar per kilo and make sure that we transport and disburse it also at less than a dollar per kilo thereafter.
I have always believed that aiming high and failing is allowed, but aiming low is not allowed, so that was the reason behind this impossible goal and as we work on it, it doesn’t look that impossible.
Thank you, Dr Mashelkar ji.
It was an engaging and engrossing conversation.
Let me summarise my five key messages.
One: The Climate Crisis is an existential crisis for Planet Earth, and the entire world must overcome this crisis with the highest level of cooperation and partnership.
Two: The world must make a rapid transition from OLD ENERGY to NEW ENERGY, which is necessary for mankind’s larger transition from an INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION to an ECOLOGICAL OR EARTH-FRIENDLY REVOLUTION.
Three: India will lead this transition from fossil fuels to Green and Clean Energy and become a major resource of Solar and Hydrogen Energy in the coming decades. It’s an opportunity worth seizing as we march from the 75th anniversary of India’s independence to its centenary in 2047.
Four: Our young and super-talented entrepreneurs will make India a Green Energy Superpower in the next 20 years, in the same way India became an IT Superpower in the last 20 years.
Five: Reliance is deeply committed to playing the leading role in creating India’s Green Economy with large-scale generation of green employment opportunities.
Best wishes, once again, to Pune International Centre.
And thanks for inviting me to this fireside chat.
Dr Mashelkar: Thank you very much for those five Mukesh Ambani mantras. I am sure they will reverberate with 2022 and much beyond. I must say, every time I talk to you, I add not years to my life but life to my years.
These have been very inspirational moments with you, and I am sure that this Fire Side chat will light a new fire in the bellies of our listeners, our leaders, our thinkers. There will be a new energy, new hope, and new aspiration. Thank you again Mukesh bhai on behalf of all of us.