GE is prioritising investments to scale renewables and advances in hydrogen: Mahesh Palashikar

Thomas K Thomas | | Updated on: Jun 21, 2022

We need to step up the pace of setting up renewable energy capacity, says the President, GE South Asia

GE has been at the forefront of innovation across high-growth sectors, such as healthcare, aviation, and energy. These sectors are undergoing a massive shift in technology adoption and new business models. BusinessLine spoke with Mahesh Palashikar, President, GE South Asia, to understand how the company is gearing up to latch on to opportunities in these sectors.

How do you see the macroeconomic headwinds panning out going forward?

India will remain among the economies with the fastest GDP growth. I strongly believe in what the data says, what IMF and World Bank say, that we will remain the largest economy with the highest GDP growth. There are two or three dark clouds or headwinds, no doubt, but you see the opportunities. Power demand is at a historical high; in 2022 we will see the hospitality, travel, restaurants, and entertainment sectors picking up. 

Inflation is a reality and it hurts the MSME, it hurts our partners. However, if demand sustains, there is a reason to believe that the whole ecosystem will accept this inflation and will continue to grow

Globally, GE is to become three different companies for aviation, healthcare, and energy. Is that structure being created here in India?

The company is taking a structured, systematic approach to the split. The separation management office (SMO) is looking at equity structure, branding, and talent seaparately. You can imagine, in a large corporation spread across 170 countries, there are so many legal entities. This is a journey that the company is pursuing. We are working through the decisions that need to be made, and the structures and solutions that need to be implemented. But it’s an exciting journey ... think of it, in early 2024, there will be three large technology-leading corporations with a huge global footprint and global employees .

Do you agree that India’s adoption of renewable energy has not acheived the expected growth trajectory?  

If you consider the current rate of growth of renewable energy capacity, and the aspiration to be at 500 GW by 2030, you will need to ramp up the speed of awarding giga watts. It is achievable. We still have eight to nine years, but at the current rate, we will not be able to achieve our goal. So we will have to accelerate the pace. Covid-19 has derailed some progress, but the country is intent on increasing capacity. India will also need to focus on generation from existing capacity and evacuating to the grid.   

There have been concerns about low pricing in competitive bidding for renewable projects

It’s a fair and absolutely critical point for the industry. So, SECI volumes need to be increased to significantly higher levels to achieve 500 gigawatt . The Centre and State governments should also enable seamless execution of these projects.  I think the whole ecosystem needs to sustain itself economically.  

There’s a lot of talk around hydrogen. What’s the timeframe in which we will see hydrogen fuel being used in a big way?

Hydrogen, for sure, has gained tremendous momentum. I’ll give you a very specific reference to gas turbine technology, because it can enable higher hydrogen usage or use of a higher mix of hydrogen as a fuel, along with natural gas. We have proven technologies in the gas turbine space. GE’s latest gas turbine, the 9HA.02, uses precision-engineered, advanced premix combustors that can burn over 50 per cent hydrogen by volume blended with natural gas. We are working on improving that to 100 per cent. The net efficiency level of a power plant powered by a 9HA.02 gas turbine in combined-cycle mode is more than 64 per cent, which means it can convert 64 per cent of a drop of fuel into electricity. In comparison, the average car engine only manages 40 per cent efficiency.

We also have a great path for the next few years, where we will keep improving technology. This is something that we are leading in. We are prioritising investment in technology to cost-effectively scale renewables and advances in hydrogen and carbon capture technologies.

Tell us about some of the moonshot ideas that you’re working on in labs in India?  

We take great pride in saying that we innovate and make in India for India and the world. Let me give you two or three examples from different industries. There is a lot of technology, research, and engineering effort focussed on the healthcare space in India. This benefits the nation and the patients here. But there are benefits globally also. For example, we recently launched a CT scanner that significantly improves the processing time for patients, reducing their exposure. This is focused on making healthcare affordable and accessible. In the wind energy space, we focus on turbine technology. We have designed our own plates at the Bengaluru centre. These wind turbines are specifically designed for the low wind speeds in India. There is also value addition for exports. Almost 70-75 per cent of the volume in wind turbine blades is exported. In the healthcare space also, almost 80 per cent of the volume from our factories in Bengaluru is exported. We export 55 per cent of the output from our Pune factory, which is aviation focussed. This gives you a lot of data points of what we do not only for India, but for the world.

GE in India had the best year in 2021 largely driven by military orders. Do you see similar growth in 2022 ?

GE Aviation has supported India’s journey towards defence self-sufficiency for over 40 years. It is collaborating with HAL for engines for the LCA. We continue to have a deep relationship with both HAL and other key military aviation organisations. Our commercial aviation business had a good year in 2021 and with new airlines and expanded commercial operations, we are optimistic about this year too.

Published on June 20, 2022
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