MR TULSI Tanti, Time Magazine’s Hero of the Environment, has an idea to make Singapore greener and draw more tourists at the same time.
Build a gigantic wind turbine the height of some 10 football fields in the sea. It would meet some of the island’s electricity needs and double up as an offshore lookout tower for visitors.
‘People can go by boat to the turbine, take the lift to the gallery and see Singapore from a 100m height,’ said the chairman of Suzlon Energy, the world’s third- largest wind energy player.
Having visited Singapore several times for family vacations as well as board meetings of SE Shipping, a family-owned company that handles logistics for Suzlon, Mr Tanti remembers it fondly as ‘a very good tourist place’.
Since Singapore has limited land, the turbine can be put in the sea and double up as a tourist attraction, he said in a recent interview in his Beijing office.
This may seem like an unorthodox suggestion, since Singapore has relatively weak wind flows. But the entrepreneur, who has started 17 different businesses, is used to blowing old assumptions away with his forward-looking ideas.
‘Entrepreneurship, going beyond what is (already) here, is in my DNA,’ said the 52-year-old, who was in China to meet clients after attending September’s World Economic Forum in the nearby city of Tianjin.
It was such out-of-the-box thinking that helped Mr Tanti, together with his three younger brothers, build the world’s third-largest wind turbine maker Suzlon about 15 years ago.
In 1994, their textile business in Surat, western India, was plagued by frequent power blackouts and sky-high electricity bills.
Then Mr Tanti discovered the wonders of wind. ‘We didn’t have energy, so our first objective was to bring energy (security). The second thing was how we can do this at low cost. How can I hedge the power cost for the next 20 years?’
This was precisely what a wind turbine could do – and conventional electricity suppliers could not.
‘If I go in and ask any power company, ‘Can you give me the price in 20 years?’, they won’t know what the fuel price will be. But if anybody came to me and asked, ‘What price will you give me in 2030?’, I can give you a fixed price today.’
So he bought two wind turbines from the top manufacturer Vestas. At that time, he had little clue about how the machines worked – or that this would be the first step to starting a company in 1995 that would one day rival the Danish company.
All he knew was that to a customer, the system of having one company make a turbine, another install it and a third maintain it, was a mess.
So he devised a complete suite of wind services which would even allow customers to buy energy from a wind turbine they owned far away.
This concept was simple, and a big hit. By 1999, wind turbines were so popular in the Indian state of Maharashtra, where Mr Tanti and his brothers had set up Suzlon by scraping together US$600,000 (S$780,000), that a law was passed allowing companies to claim the costs of installing turbines as a tax deduction.
In 2001, Suzlon’s sales crossed the US$100 million mark.
That set the stage for the company to pull off a successful US$340 million listing on the Indian stock exchange in 2005 and the largest acquisition by any Indian company in Germany in 2007.
But for Mr Tanti, 2001 was a turning point in a different way: He made it his mission to help save the world.
‘I personally realised that the biggest challenge for the world is global warming and climate change…and we (Suzlon) can create a good impact on that,’ he said.
With carbon emissions growing dangerously fast, the polar ice caps are melting, putting his favourite islands like the Maldives in danger of being submerged by rising sea levels.
‘The sea level (is expected to) grow by 7m. This will hit Singapore too, not just the Maldives…Of course, it may take many years (before this happens), but we must ask ourselves, What are we giving to our grandchildren?’
Mr Tanti, whose son and daughter are both studying for their master’s degrees in finance, does not have grandchildren yet.
But he can already imagine how they would react to his crusade: ‘They will know… if I will do a good job, they will be very happy.’
His own grandfather had made a deep impression on him when he was a 21-year-old.
He had tried to sell surplus underground water sourced from beneath his father’s cold storage factory during a water crisis in 1978, but was sternly rebuked.
‘I sold water from a big tank, and within seven days, my grandfather came to know. Immediately, he said, ‘You cannot sell water, give it free to the people.”
So while entrepreneurship is in the DNA of the Tanti family, the 16 members running Suzlon have grown up learning that doing business is about being a ‘good human being’.
It is such family values of integrity and good humanity that Mr Tanti says drive him to travel as many as 300 days a year around the world persuading people to use more giant fans.
‘I hope to communicate to the common people, the governments, the decision makers that we are growing the economy but at the same time our actions are destroying the environment.’
Sceptics may view this as a savvy plug for more wind turbines to help Suzlon – which took a hit during the global financial crisis – expand its 10 per cent global market share and reverse its net loss by the end of this year.
This time, Mr Tanti is in China pushing Suzlon’s expansion in the world’s largest wind energy market, which may include offshore wind projects using its 6MW turbines.
Still, Mr Tanti, named ‘Champion of the Earth 2009’ by the United Nations Environment Programme, would rather reduce his carbon footprint than live it up as the 69th richest man in India with more than US$1 billion in assets.
That includes having no private jet and no power-guzzling mansion. He lives in a three-bedroom rented apartment in Pune, a city in western India, and took the hour-long train ride from Tianjin to Beijing instead of driving.
He is also sticking to his 20-year vision for Suzlon that started in 2001 when he feared for the fate of sinking islands.
The first step was for Suzlon to expand its capacity rapidly. ‘From 2002 to 2010, our growth was nearly 60 per cent because we believe we (must) put more wind turbines to reduce the world’s carbon footprint.
‘Today you ask me, what is the next level? By 2020, we want maximum geography.’
Suzlon is already in 25 markets. But with demand in the United States and Europe faltering, it is aggressively expanding in developing countries.
‘We are concentrating heavily in the short term on emerging markets: India, China, South Africa and South America. These markets are growing, they have hunger for energy and are looking to more…(green) job creation,’ he said.
‘Maybe I can put some wind turbines offshore in Singapore too.’
The island, which houses key wind energy research centres for Vestas and Siemens, is already experimenting with vertical wind turbines on land. But the feasibility of offshore turbines is unclear.
But Mr Tanti seemed so taken by the idea that he continued talking even as he headed out of the door to his client meeting: ‘Maybe we can recommend to the Singapore Government. Suzlon has the technology for it.’
After all, even small islands count in his 2020 vision. ‘The more megawatts of wind power, the more energy security and green jobs,’ he said.
Power to the people, minus the emissions
Straits Times 17 Nov 10;
# Why are you interested in wind energy?
Going forward, energy needs will increase considerably: The world has a population of six billion right now, of which 1.5 billion don’t have access to electricity.
By 2030, the population will likely grow to around nine billion, and by that time, the world will need almost double the energy that it needs today.
So in this context, one thing is clear: We need to provide access to electricity for everybody, and this electricity should be low-cost and not damage the climate.
Wind energy players such as Suzlon can help meet this need and develop a low-carbon economy. At the same time, we are contributing to more green jobs.
# You attended the Copenhagen Summit in December last year. What is your take on global efforts to cut carbon emissions?
We have a great opportunity to reshape the world’s energy consumption patterns of today, and to make energy cleaner, more accessible and more sustainable.
Acting now will mean a better world for us and for all of our children. At the Copenhagen summit, 192 countries agreed to keep the Earth’s temperature increase below 2 deg C.
However, we still need to establish a global governance framework on climate change that ensures enforcement so that all countries will follow it strictly. Such a framework takes time to agree upon though, and maybe it would take one or two more years to get that established.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding