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Monday Morning Article Cover for: The Future of Smart Grids: Anubhav Rath

Alumni

|Alumni Speaks

The Future of Smart Grids: Anubhav Rath

Feb 14, 2016|4 minutes

Jisha Bhattacharjee


It is not too often that you come across someone who is passionate enough about his visions and ideas to go the extra mile of learning and understanding, so as to equip himself to give shape to his dreams. Living wholly on the premise of “Be the Change you want to See”, Anubhav Rath has mastered the field of his choice and used his mastery to build something that has the potential to affect millions on the path to a Cleaner and Efficient Energy Usage future. An Ex-Chief Coordinator of Monday Morning himself, Anubhav is presently busy building Shared Electric, an Electrical Power Systems Solutions start-up based out of Bangalore and Zurich. Excerpts from an interview over coffee on a summer afternoon amidst the bustling crowd of Bangalore.

MM: Tell us about your life before NIT Rourkela. How was your childhood? Was engineering a chance or a choice?

AR: I grew up in a small town called Balangir and then moved to Bhubaneswar to pursue my higher secondary education. This was probably my first step into the real world. I did my +2 from BJB Junior College in Bhubaneswar. I did find the medical field interesting and the idea of becoming a doctor and serving the people seemed alluring but it takes a lot of time to become something significant in this line of work. I was always more inclined towards engineering as I found the problem solving in it very real and useful. Thus I appeared for AIEEE and got into NIT Rourkela and I have never regretted since.

MM: What about the department of Electrical Engineering? What set the department apart at your time? What changes has it undergone since then?

AR: While doing my +2 I found physics the most interesting. Most people say that the electrical branch is a difficult one because most of the things that are taught are intangible as you cannot exactly see what's happening within. This is what I found intriguing. Growing up in India during the times when big challenges like providing power for all, climate change, blackouts, pollution are being addressed, I believed in the prospect of renewable energy and wanted to implement it using Electrical Engineering as a pathway.

Back then, the EE department was situated in the administrative building. Most of my professors were really helpful. The department has undergone a lot of change since then. The fancy building, modern labs, better equipment, greater number of faculty members- all these will aid the students who want to become forerunners in the field of engineering.

MM: Tell us about your life in NITR. How did you and the institute change/grow in that period?

AR: My first year was not very interesting as I was not a part of any club. We were not allowed to have laptops at that time. Most days were spent having endless chats with friends. Jogging was made compulsory when I was in my 2nd year. Once I got into clubs I felt more engaged. I was in MM, AASRA and Degree 361. We also tried to restart IEEEin the institute but weren't much successful as the membership fee was quite high. During that period, a lot of infrastructural initiatives were taken which, it seems is still continuing. A few halls of residences came up and even the swimming pool came up just before my graduation. Out of all these, I would say, hostel life has been the most cherished experience for me.

MM: You were one of the earliest Monday Morning chief coordinators. Tell us about your experience with Monday Morning. How has MM transformed over the years?

AR:

MM was a very essential part of my college life. Back then, MM was in its nascent years. Our only motive was to make MM known in the campus and supply some news for the website. Agendas such as increasing readership or trying something innovative with the one-page html website were secondary. But the upcoming batches worked hard on the website as well as the content part and gradually the response from the readers improved. The recently launched new website is a proof of that.

MM: Tell us something about the 33kV project that you took up as your topic of research for the B. Tech thesis which now, has become a reality.

AR: A few friends of mine and I wanted to work on something which is more relevant to real life unlike the usual theoretical and simulation work that entails most B. Tech projects. Thus we took up the 33kv smart power supply issue. We met a few officials who were involved in the 33kV power line project for Rourkela, looked at the documents and blueprints, made single line diagrams, loaded the data for calculation. At that time it was just a simple calculation but now it has become more relevant. This project also taught me about demand-side management balance, which is at the heart of Shared Electric's focus.

MM: How did ETH Zurich happen? What were the projects that you were involved in while you were there?

AR: I wanted to continue my studies and rather I wanted to learn how to learn. I applied to some universities. I had a job offer in ABB Bangalore and was not sure about my selection into the institutes. But once I received my admission letter as well as the scholarship letter from ETH Zurich I became confident. My study program in Zurich focussed on the Economic side of Renewable Energy and was a very interesting and effective one for my future prospects. It inculcated students from different engineering and non-engineering backgrounds. The professor who started it was my tutor and my mentor. He believed that the problem of energy conservation is a multi disciplinary one and thus people from diverse backgrounds should brainstorm and come forward to solve it.

One of our projects involved taking a small town in Germany off the European power grid and provide resources using solar panels and wind energy to keep the town up and running for the entire year. Techno-Economic Optimization was an essential aspect of the project.

For the MS degree, my project topic was “Market Mechanism to Enable wind power plants to make them prominent in the Power Market”. This mainly dealt with management of wind power plant to have minimalistic losses. It infused power system studies, economics as well as statistical analysis of data. As a personal project, I also took up the issue of black outs in India under the guidance of my mentor.

MM: How did Shared Electric happen? What challenges do you face as a young entrepreneur? What have been the primary obstacles in the growth of Shared Electric?

AR: The idea of Shared Electric was conceived during my thesis days at ETH-Z. It arose from the need to involve the consumer in the smart and efficient management of power distribution. Incentivising efficiency on the load side in terms of the time and extent of use can greatly aid power distribution firms in improving margins while allowing for conservation of energy. Karl, my present business partner and I had organized a socio-cultural youth exchange programme for 2 weeks during which we were working towards renovating a museum. This, in a way, cemented our​ idea​ of working together in future into a ​resolve​. It was also there that we conceptualized the idea of rural electrification with reduced investment by leveraging consumers participation and behavioral demand-side management. Later on in Shared Electric, one of our earliest projects was to implement this in a small village in India for demonstration purpose and the results were promising which kept us going.

The biggest obstacle that we are facing is that the industry that we are in has a very conventional style of working and it is reluctant to accept changes. That's the reason you don't see many start-ups in the power sector in India. Also in India, experience is a very important factor when it comes to the consumers choosing their favourites. Thus being a start-up itself is an obstacle. Today, hard work is nothing if it isn't smart enough. We are trying to attract associates from well established companies. Earlier we worked in the B2B format but now we are scheduling to change that and interact directly with the end users. We have plans to launch mobile apps for this purpose. We have received some good responses and hopefully these plans will take shape and improve our position in the market.

MM: What is the future of Shared Electric? Where do you see yourself five years down the line?

AR: In five years I would like to see Shared Electric working with several utility providers from different countries. The idea of optimized consumption to improve the efficiency of electrical usage can be better accepted by developing countries because the rich and developed countries have reached a saturation limit and it would be very difficult to bring any large infrastructural changes there. Also in the long run we would like to contribute in some manner to reduce the frequent black-out in India.

Image Caption

Shared Electric at Lift Conference, Bangalore

MM: Does founding a start-up take away your other identities? Do you lose out on the personal front in the face of immense workload? Do you still have time for hobbies?

AR:

Rather than taking away, it adds many facets to ones personality. One advantage of being a self-made entrepreneur is that you can work when you want to and with whoever you want to. It's a myth that people have nurtured that entrepreneurs don't have time for anything else. It depends on how well you manage time and work. Generally, at Shared Electric, we take one weekend a month off to indulge in our hobbies. I like writing, running, meeting friends, socialising, and I make sure that I have time to indulge in these. In short the life of an entrepreneur is a well compartmentalised one.

MM: ETH Zurich is one the premier research institutes in the world. How is it different from NIT Rourkela? Where do you think NITR needs to buckle up and make some serious changes?

AR: Students are more individualistic there. They are also given the opportunity to audit their own courses and they use it wisely. This can be implemented here too. Apart from this, I think in Indian institutes professors and faculty members are burdened with a lot of administrative work. This should change so that they can make more time for their students. This will also make time for the teachers to groom themselves and educate better. The first year syllabus covers fundamentals of several subjects but the students don't explore them in details. I think having a fewer subjects which are taught in details would serve the institutes and the students better.

MM: The start-up culture is not very prominent in the institute yet. What do you think is the reason for that?

AR: As a whole, India lags behind when it comes to entrepreneurship. A reason could be the fright of failure persisting among the students. Also our society is not that encouraging when it comes to start-ups. Students and studies are mostly grade point oriented and those who look beyond do not receive the appropriate support. But I think the scenario is changing slowly but it will take some time to become prominent in the colleges of the country including NITR.

MM: How would you rate the Alumni relations scenario of NITR? What has been your experience interacting with the institute as an alumnus?

AR: The problem has been on both sides. Communication is poor since there is a lack of proper outreach programmes. Thus many alumni who might intend to help remain unaware of the requirements of the institute and some do not know how to get in touch with the proper authorities. I think MM can play a huge role in minimising this gap by propagating the developments going on in the institute and projects being undertaken by the students. The baseline is that we need to stop being unhappy about the things happening around us and look for solutions within the constraints.

MM: What message do you have for all the juniors and budding entrepreneurs at NITR?

AR:

Students have a lot of pressure and they worry about a lot of things and sometimes mess up with the important decisions of their lives. I would just like to advise them to take it easy, try to understand what exactly you want from your lives and strategise how you will carve your path. Specialise in what interests you and keep the zeal to learn alive.

Interested in a deeper insight into Shared Electric and the products they build? Head over to http://www.sharedelectric.com/

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