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How India’s Cleantech Startups Are Building Sustainable Solutions To Mitigate Risks Of Climate Change

SUMMARY

According to a report by London & Partners and Dealroom.Co, India’s climate tech companies received $1 Bn in venture capital between 2016 and 2021

To decode India’s climate tech potential, mathematical and technical computing software company MathWorks recently held a virtual panel discussion titled, ‘The Role Of Innovation In Tackling Climate Change’

The panellists listed hydrogen tech, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and sustainable aviation as some of the emerging pro-climate technologies

Melting ice caps, scorching heat waves, intense droughts and floods — the catastrophic effects of climate change are now too worrying to ignore, and survival measures must be implemented, without further delay.

In fact, according to an IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report on mitigation of climate change, climate-friendly policies, infrastructure, technology and lifestyle changes can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

“Clean technology can definitely mitigate the climate impact. For instance, robots cleaning solar panels without water is a great innovation to save gallons of water,” said Pratap Raju, founding partner at Climate Collective, a non-profit organisation developing a platform to empower climate tech startups in India.

Raju was speaking at a virtual panel discussion recently held by global mathematical and technical computing software company MathWorks. The session, titled The Role Of Innovation In Tackling Climate Change, discussed India’s climate tech potential to help fight the crisis.

Moderated by Dr Tanya Morton, MathWorks global director of customer success engineering, the discussion also included Dr Suruchi Rao, cofounder and CEO of the Bengaluru-based bioenergy company Ossus Biorenewables, and Debasis Goswami, general manager of the Shell E4 innovation hub for startups.

India’s Cleantech Sector: Key Drivers And Challenges

As of 2021, India was the third-largest primary energy consumer, accounting 6.1%, as per the International Energy Agency (IEA). However, the country’s energy consumption will likely shoot up to 9.8% by 2050. Worse still, more than 80% of this energy demand is still met by coal, oil and solid biomass.

The good news is that sustainable energy alternatives are already picking up pace. Take, for example, the renewable energy sector. As of 2020, India was ranked fourth in wind power, fifth in solar power and fourth in RE-based installed capacity.

Although some impressive strides have been made, we’re still a long way from achieving the target of installing 450 GW of RE capacity by 2030. Understandably, India’s cleantech startups will play a critical role in this green pursuit.

“We must move away from carbon. I think hydrogen-driven technologies can safeguard our future. It’s something even we’re working on (at Ossus Biorenewables),” noted Rao.

“There are many opportunities in cleantech like EV charging and infrastructure, hydrogen technology, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and sustainable aviation,” said Goswami of Shell E4. These sectors and technologies are growing fast and pushing India’s transformation towards a sustainable economy, he added.

However, despite the green push, developing advanced technologies in the cleantech space and sustaining them is a big challenge.

Costs associated with installation, harnessing energy (such as solar and wind) and building scalable systems are considerably high. Moreover, how do companies, especially those in the power sector ensure a smooth transition to sustainable energy without hampering their profits?

“Of course convincing companies to shift from fossil fuels to green hydrogen is still a challenge. But we try to integrate our solutions with their roadmap to make this transition easier,” said Rao, whose Bengaluru-based startup creates clean solutions for steel companies by utilising wastewater.

This clearly shows the need for government support and investment in the cleantech sector to help startups develop impactful technologies and scale in both — home and abroad markets.

Of Investments, Incubators And Accelerators

Except for a few pioneering startups, the cleantech sector in India is still nascent, but it has started attracting investor interest.

“When we started our journey in 2017, investors were sceptical, but now there is a major shift. Everyone wants to have a conversation around sustainability, and that is why so many companies are working on these technologies,” said Rao.

A 2021 report by London & Partners and Dealroom.Co, also proves this shift. According to the report, India ranked ninth globally in terms of climate tech investment with the country’s climate tech companies receiving $1 Bn in venture capital between 2016 and 2021.

In 2019, startups in the cleantech space raised a total of $506 Mn from 58 deals, a 396% hike in value compared to 2016 ($102 Mn from 18 deals), suggested not-for-profit industry body, Impact Investors Council.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of accelerators and incubators have come up to support cleantech startups, which wasn’t the case earlier,” disclosed Raju. “In those terms, India is way ahead of other countries in Asia,” he added.

Shell’s E4 programme is one such initiative that aims to support India’s net-zero journey by accelerating energy startups and providing them with capital, resources, mentorship and networks.

“We look for early stage startups who need support in terms of domain expertise, infrastructure and capital, especially in areas like hydrogen tech, biofuels, energy storage and industrial digital solutions,” said E4’s Goswami.

Interestingly, in 2018, Rao’s startup was one of the first cleantech startups to be incubated by E4. During the discussion, Rao credited E4 for providing mentorship and resources for accelerating her startup.

This proves that new-age companies are now building solutions that are not only profitable but also sustainable.

MathWorks, which develops mathematical computing software for engineers and scientists also aims to support startup innovations across varied sectors including medicine, robotics, automobile and cleantech. The MathWorks Accelerator Program offers free one-year access to industry-proven software, along with technical support and guidance to startups in partner accelerators.

Bringing Technology From Labs To Markets

Universities and research organisations are the quintessential innovation hubs with the potential to steer the world towards a better future. But the question is: How do you bring innovation to business and make it marketable in a large context, especially for large-scale industry use?

“The transition from labs to actual deployment is something we need to work upon. I think India’s rich startup ecosystem provides scope for this jump. There is a need to build entrepreneurship in this space and bring in funding so that technologies can scale,” said Rao.

Government initiatives and foreign direct investment can play a vital role here.

During the Union Budget 2022-23, the government announced an allocation of more than INR 3,365 Cr for the solar sector, a 26% increase over the previous year’s INR 2,606 Cr. The FDI inflow in the clean energy sector has also gone up. In October 2021, the UAE committed to invest $75 Bn in India’s clean energy space and work closely with the country.

Given the timely strides taken by startups, investors, incubators and governments, could India innovate more green solutions and become the climate champion when cleantech and decarbonisation remain the need of the hour?

The panellists believe that people are at the heart of solving the issue at hand and their actions can help startups and other stakeholders in their fight against climate change.

“I urge the youth, who are looking to join the workforce to work for companies who are trying to mitigate climate change and contribute towards a better future,” Rao called out of action.

Raju concluded on a fairly optimistic note, quoting the famous lines by former US president Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict your future is to create it”.

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