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India has the ability to build out cost-effective new smartgrid infrastructure

Q&A with Mark Gabriel

Q:  What’s your interest in the India Smart Grid market?

A: As U.S. leader in smart grid we provide expertise in the design, development and planning of intelligent infrastructure. And, as the world’s #1 energy and telecom firm and the major player in water infrastructure, we are active in the Indian market.

Q:  What do you see as biggest opportunity and reason for modernizing India’s grid?

A: India has a growing economy and growing demand. There is a one-to-one relationship between the availability of electricity and the production of the economy. The dollar of output to dollar of GDP is well documented and any nation wishing to grow and prosper needs a safe, reliable and functioning electric system. There are two steps in this process: (1) modernizing the existing infrastructure in order for it to be more efficient and (2) building out new infrastructure in the most cost-effective way possible. This is especially true as India’s economic expansion reaches further into the undeveloped countryside and works to take advantage of renewables, as well as tradition power sources.

Q:  It’s been said that India has the opportunity to build its “smart grid” from scratch. How might this be an advantage/disadvantage when compared to the U.S., Europe, and other nations that are “smartening up” existing electrical infrastructure?

A: Unlike many of the more developed nations where there is an established energy paradigm—generation/transmission/distribution — and where there are huge investments in existing assets, India has an opportunity to “build it right” from the start as there is no need to write down existing infrastructure investments which are being depreciated over the 30 to 40 year lives. This means that the initial smart grid can be drawn from scratch, providing state-of-the art equipment and business models without the restrictions of existing financial investments. It is also possible to break from the traditional vertically integrated model, which requires significant investments in all facets of the business, and instead focus on delivering high-quality, high-reliability power on site, taking advantage of a variety of resources not just central stations. By not being bound in a traditional sense, investments can be made closer to the user, and the business proposition does not have to include vast societal investments (made logically over decades).

Q: What are the most critical elements and requirements for Smart Grid success in India, in your opinion (i.e standards, collaboration, international partnerships, consumer engagement), and why?

A: The single most important element in the success of the Smart Grid in India is establishing the proper business model in order to assure investors they will get a return on the capital investments required to build out intelligent infrastructure. Without an established, accountable and legally binding set of rules, it makes no difference if there are standards, partnerships or customer engagement. Attracting capital requires market stability and a basis for returns.

Q: What do you see as the most significant obstacle to doing business in India?

A: The most significant obstacle to doing business in India is assuring a capital structure and market, which allows investors to make returns.

Mark Gabriel is senior vice president of strategy and business process for Black and Veatch — a leading global engineering, consulting and construction company – is focused on the electricity, water, oil and gas sectors. Mr. Gabriel is speaking about Smart Grid on a panel at the upcoming GridWeek Asia conference, taking place 16-18 January 2012 in Mumbai, India.

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