Speeches/

Remarks by Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation,

at the Launch of Tata Power Renewable Microgrid - Dinner Reception

As delivered on Monday, November 4, 2019, at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi, India.

Good evening, how are you? A little quiet out there after Praveer gave that incredible story of how awesome this partnership is, literally an awesome partnership. That’s a data science joke for those who care to appreciate it.

I just want to start by extending my thanks first to Ashvin Dayal. I’ll say – we have, inside The Rockefeller Foundation, a management meeting every two weeks. It’s a little bit of a big meeting and it’s quite structured and Ashvin’s first two words in every one of those meetings for the past year has started with Tata Power, and – and everyone looks up and eagerly awaits news of what has transpired. And so, Ashvin, you now will go home and you’ll get to say that it’s launched and that’s a major, major accomplishment. Congratulations to you for your leadership and your commitment.

I also want to recognize Deepali Khanna who’s here, who so many of you know and has been instrumental; and Jaideep Mukherji and, of course, Praveer, you and your extraordinary team. One other colleague, in case you don’t know, is our health lead, is Dr. Naveen Rao who’s here. Naveen, can you put your hand up for a second just to embarrass you? Naveen’s right here. If you get a chance and work on health or anything related to it, of which energy is deeply related to it, or if you just need a prescription for something, he’s your guy.

I’ll say that, you know, this new partnership is so important and exciting for us and it’s very special to be in a room of so many friends and colleagues. Some of you I have just met outside, others I’ve known or known of for many years, and I have followed your work through our Smart Power India affiliate. And so, if you are here with DESI Power, TaraUrja, OMC, Husk Power, Mlinda, ITT, so many others, I know that these kinds of accomplishments are collaborations across teams and we want to thank you for the extraordinary commitment you’ve made so far. And I want to preemptively thank you for the extra commitment you’re going to make going forward to make sure these programs all work. Together, you have really demonstrated that it’s possible to end energy poverty.

Ashvin mentioned that I have had a lifelong commitment to addressing and ending energy poverty. That’s, unfortunately, not true. I only really learned about the importance of electricity in the context of development and human development work. I’m a medical doctor by training, but unlike Naveen, not an active one. But you know, after my first week on the job when I was in the Obama administration at USAID, I was put in charge of the response to the earthquake in Haiti, and we had to very quickly, you know – in one moment, about 250,000 people had died in a tragic, tragic earthquake – and we mobilized a military and civilian response that, at the time, was the largest humanitarian response ever mounted.

And I would go every few weeks, and spend a couple of days visiting people we were trying to serve, and I met a mother and a young girl who told me about – I said, well, “what’s the most important thing that’s happened here as part of the response?” because we were always trying to make it better.

And I thought, you know, it’s the water. We worked so hard to get clean waters to prevent a diarrheal disease outbreak or health. We were literally – we put an ocean liner called the U.S.S. Comfort, a huge ship with a big red cross on it, did 22,000 surgeries to reattach limbs that had been severed from children. It was extraordinary and I thought I would hear about those efforts.

And she told me it was when we reconnected the electricity in that small area and allowed the lights to go back on, because in the darkness, girls and women were being attacked and abused relentlessly and they desperately needed that for their personal safety.

It was in that moment I understood and then started to try to learn about the energy sector and why it’s so important. And after that, whether it was in Afghanistan or Africa, Somalia, or right here in India, I have come to appreciate that you truly cannot end poverty and you cannot bring justice and dignity to those who are vulnerable without extending electricity to them in an economically feasible and reliable manner. And so, you know, in this room, the impact of the effort we’re announcing tonight and the impact it’ll have, but I do hope you can – we’ll play one short video just so you can see the types of impacts that are already happening here in India.

[Video plays]

Savitri’s story reminds us what electricity can do. It has the power to make the impossible possible. In fact, we’ve seen across the roughly 200,000 people that Smart Power India serves, the small businesses that now get power through these mini-grids have seen an almost 50% increase in their revenue and in their income. And you can imagine that since many of these are women-headed enterprises, those economic gains are reinvested in the welfare of their children, in their nutrition, access to school, and efforts that lift up entire communities.

That’s why we’re so proud today to be launching an enterprise that we believe will quickly become the world’s largest microgrid developer and operator. It’s why I get excited hearing Praveer tell the story of how this came together, because it illustrates that unlike most people who are not energy sector and power systems management sector experts, we are beginning to understand that this is as much an investment in technology, data science, and innovation as it is in simply providing access.

Through data science and better analytics, we can manage grid systems from afar, reducing labor costs, reducing waste, loss, and theft, and enabling an economic model to reach hundreds of millions of people more viably.

By investing in new energy storage technologies, we can literally invent, perhaps on the backbones of the electric vehicle revolution, a new way to make intermittent renewable power the world’s most common, most safe, and most reliable power source.

By investing in smart grid technologies and smart meters, we can solve problems that have existed for years and have resulted in so many of even India’s DISCOMs [distribution companies] being mired in debt and poor service statistics.

Together, we really can show the world what is possible when one of the world’s most historic foundations and one of the world’s most historic power companies – Tata Power is actually older than The Rockefeller Foundation. It was founded in 1911 with the provision that Praveer mentioned. And so, we’re thrilled to be engaging in this type of partnership. Today, 40-50% of enterprises in rural India still rely primarily on diesel power. If that’s still true five years from now, we will simply not have succeeded.

The reason I keep aspiring to set the target higher is not just to make Ashvin even more frantically upset with me. It is actually because sometimes I’ve found if you have an ambition that is huge, is transformational, like the desire to vaccinate every child on the planet, the desire to protect every woman from physical attack, or the desire to truly end energy poverty for the 840 million people around the world live without access to electricity, you can engage partners that have the scale and capacity to actually solve that problem.

Today, I look in this room and recognize Tata Power is one of those kinds of very, very, very rare partners that can bring the scale and capacity to actually solve energy poverty in India. And in doing so, we can, together, create 10,000 new green jobs. We can support 100,000 rural enterprises. We will deliver power-based irrigation to 400,000 local farmers and safe drinking water to all of the 5 million households this project seeks to serve, and 25 million people living and residing in those households.

On a global scale, this effort will reduce yearly carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1 million tons and reduce the amount of diesel burn by 57 million liters. That’s enough diesel for about 3,000 cars to drive from Delhi to Mumbai every single day.

Now, I’ve been here in Delhi for – it feels like a little bit longer, but probably half a day – and I’m struck by the air quality. In fact, my wife and daughter are with me and we’ve been wearing masks outside because it is striking. And you know, put yourself – that’s what we’re doing here in New Delhi over these few days, but you all know if you put yourselves in the shoes of an impoverished family living in a rural community, they are often living with much, much worse toxic air pollution inside their house every day: the result of stoves and lamps burning dirty kerosene, having that be the only reliable way to gain energy and access to power to make their lives possible.

This kind of a partnership has the ability to show that it’s not just our task to fight poverty and to bring technology to that mission, but in doing so, we can also – as the Indian Solar Alliance has made abundantly clear – extend a hand so that so many millions of people can rise economically while also demonstrating a low-carbon pathway for development for tens and potentially hundreds of millions of people. And we all know that our planet needs that now more than ever.

So, congratulations to all of you involved in this extraordinary effort. The Rockefeller Foundation will be committed to this project whether we reach 25 million people or 250 million people. We will rely on each and every one of you to continue to innovate and continue to bring technology not just to those who benefit because they’re wealthy and they can afford it, but also so that every single person has the ability to be safe, be secure, and be optimistic about their future.

Thank you.

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