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Educational and Career Opportunities in Indian Renewable Energy | India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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I love Saturdays and Sundays. These are possibly the only days when I can have leisurely chat with folks who call me either to learn something about renewable energy or teach me something about the same.

These days are lovable also because I have the time enough to reflect on such discussions and even put down a blog post – something I’m doing right now about the half hour discussion I had with an IIT Roorkee passout Sagun Tripathi.

Sagun graduated in mechanical engineering from IIT Roorkee last  year and had been working at a top consumer products company for a year before he decided he did not want to spend his life marketing sweets and chocolates. This thought led him into researching a career in renewable energy; quitting his job early this year, he had been working at some renewable energy projects at IIT Delhi.

Sagun was keen to know about the prospects for various renewable energy sources in India as he planned to do an MS in renewable energy from the US and return back to India.

The following were his questions:

1. What sector should he specialise within renewable energy?

2. What are the career prospects in renewable energy in India?

These are questions that many bright students from all over India have asked me and my team time and time again, so I’m putting down my views on these:

1. What sector should he specialise within renewable energy?

The answer to this question depends really on what your aspirations are.

If you plan to get into research, then it makes sense to pursue a sector that is closely aligned with your background. For instance, there are many folks at EAI who have backgrounds in biotechnology. Some of them have plans to do their research (PhD), and the natural sector for them to do their PhD will be in the area of bio-based products – biofuels, biopolymers etc. Theoretically, they can do a MS or PhD in solar PV as well, say, but you can pretty much appreciate they will be much better off pursuing research in their area of specialization unless of course they have a strong reason to switch fields.  My only suggestion for these research-oriented candidates would be choose topics within their sectors of specialization which have high growth rates and attractive prospects for the future. For instance, a biotechnology student could choose topics such as biofuels, biofertilizers or biopolymers all of which are showing excellent growth, but would she be equally well off by choosing a topic such as biomimicry? I’m not entirely sure, because biomimicry is still at fairly nascent stages and their practical applicability in the near future is not entirely clear. However, there are some who might argue that its nascent status should be the main reason why someone should choose this – because there will be less competition from other PhD candidates. I guess which of the two arguments is more appropriate for you depends on how risk-loving you are.

On the other hand, if your intention is not to get into research but to get involved in the renewable energy / cleantech industry, then you have two ways of deciding your sectoral focus. One, if you want to be involved in cleantech industry in general and are not particular about any sector, then it might be a good idea to do a Masters in Renewable Energy as a general theme. Such a course provides you a good acquaintance with a range of renewable energy and cleantech topics and this will put you in a good position to get into a consulting position or management position in many companies worldwide. Two, if you are keen on having a sectoral focus, but are not sure which is the best sector to get into, I would recommend solar (especially solar PV) as the best bet. This is a sector that in my opinion will show the strongest growth over the next 10-15 years, and with strong innovation driving the industry, will provide a plethora of technical, operational, research and management opportunities for students.

2. What are the career prospects in renewable energy in India?

This is an easier question to answer. In one word: Excellent.

All major renewable energy sectors – solar, wind, biofuels, biomass-power, small hydro, waste to energy (not exactly renewable in some cases) – are already showing or will be soon showing excellent growth (biofuels possibly belongs to the latter, because right now the industry is in poor shape but is likely to pick up pace in the next couple of years). A good barometer for career opportunities for a sector is the quantum of investments – here, the statistics speak for themselves – from less than $300 million investments in 2001, the investments in renewable energy rose to about $4 billion in 2008, to over $7 billion in 2009 and in 2010, the investments could cross $10 billion, at a compounded annual growth rate of over 70%. That’s quite phenomenal. Job and career opportunities will open up in a slew of domains within renewable energy – in manufacturing, trading and in services.

If there is one domain within renewable energy where I’m not entirely convinced of career prospects, it is in scientific research. Compared to the kind of research that universities in the western world are doing, the research that Indian universities carry out is a joke. I have heard of scientists who proudly claim that they have been allocated Rs 5 lakhs for their research on subjects like algae fuels. With that kind of money, you can’t even fund a decent scientist with experience working with you for a year. I have looked at the kind of research that top universities in India like IITs and IISc are doin, and in short, I’m not impressed.

So, that kind of concludes what transpired between me and Sagun. The only other aspect I would like to point out (and something I had pointed out to him as well) was to look not just at renewable energy, but also at opportunities in clean technology and environmental sustainability. Of these environmental sustainability is the superset, cleantech is a subset within that, and renewable energy is a subset of cleantech. For those students who wish to make a difference not just to themselves but also to the ecosystem and society around them, reading up and researching on careers in environmental sustainability will possibly provide them a more holistic idea of opportunities available than looking at renewable energy alone.

Sustainability related products and services is already a $1.5 trillion industry, and growing fast. Renewable energy is possibly just about 25% of this, so you get the picture.

Hope I have been able to add my 2 cents (or say, 2 paisa) worth of wisdom. I request you put down your thoughts, views and questions in the comments and I will answer back using the same comments section.

Thanks for having the patience to read such a loooong post!