Arun Firodia, chairman of the Kinetic Group innovated indigenous products like the low-priced Luna moped, which afforded mobility to the common man and Kinetic Honda, a womens' two-wheeler. Firodia earned his B.Tech with distinction in electrical engineering from IIT, Mumbai, followed by a masters in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a MS in management from Sloan School of Management.
In 2012 Firodia was conferred the Padmashri the third-highest civillian honour in recognition of his contribution to nation building. Firodia established the ''H K Firodia Memorial Foundation '' in 1996 in the memory and honour of his father, late H K Firodia. The Foundation has instituted ''H K Firodia Awards for Excellence in Science & Technology'', for outstanding Indian Scientists for original and world class contributions to any branch of science. Former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, was the first recipient of this award.
In this interview with Swetha Amit, he talks about the concept of green growth and smart cities advocated in his 2 new books, Green Growth and Smart Cities the importance of solar power, tracing back to the Indus Valley Civilization with regards to planned cities and his future plans.
The aspect of green growth and 100 smart cities is something that is being visualised with great expectation today. What was your inspiration behind the book?
Sustainable development has always been close to my heart. In Kinetic, we had practiced several eco-friendly measures, particularly in rain water harvesting and water recycling. The inspiration for this book came from none other than late Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. In his speech, at PIC Pune a couple of years ago, he advocated the need of small scale, practical and doable sustainability plans particularly for cities. We at Janwani decided to take this as a challenge and initiated formulation of climate change action plan for Pune. This book is the culmination of that effort.
Your book talks about green growth - the concept that has been designed using Pune as a model city. What made you choose Pune as a model for a green city? How do you see this design working in other cities like Mumbai and Delhi?
Pune, being my hometown, was always going to receive the first priority. Pune residents are very receptive to innovative ideas and changes. In fact, Pune has always been a 'thought' leader. It is known as 'Oxford of the East', and thus an ideal city for an experiment.
All Indian cities are more or less similar. Techniques which are useful for the sustainable development of Pune can be used in any other city in India, or even abroad, with some modifications that serve a particular city's needs. For example, in Mumbai, the emphasis on public transport would not be that necessary since a large number of people already use it.
There has been a lot of talk about saving our planet and yet there is also a need for urban development which in turn results in carbon emission. How does one attain a fine balance between saving our planet and not hindering development at the same time?
As the standard of living increases, energy consumption increases too. This also leads to increase in emission if the energy is generated from conventional sources like coal. But we can generate energy from non-carbon sources like solar, wind, geothermal etc. That would satisfy our energy demand in an eco-friendly way. This is the key to sustainable development. Sustainable development doesn't say 'no' to development, rather it supports development which will have firm roots.
Green growth stresses that energy via solar power is a cleaner option than the one generated by thermal power, which tends to emit more carbon dioxide. Yet installing rooftops and photovoltaic cells proves to be a costly affair. In that case how will people opt for this cleaner option?
As of now, solar power is costlier than coal but this situation will not remain for long. Recently, Madhya Pradesh opened bids for solar power in which the lowest winning bid was Rs5.05 per unit by Canadian solar company (50 MW capacity). Over 2,200 MW of projects were offered at tariff below Rs6 per unit. If you compare this to coal bids in Andhra Pradesh at Rs4.98 per units (the maximum) and in Tamilnadu and Rajasthan Rs5.41 and Rs5.66 per unit, there is a difference of only 20-50 paise per unit between green energy and fossil fuel. This difference reducing and solar power will be in direct competition with coal soon.
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You have talked about the concept of green architecture. Considering the increase in the population figures, do you see the feasibility of this concept being adopted in the upcoming residential complexes?
Rising population should be housed in high rise buildings. It is a wrong perception that high rise buildings are not environment friendly. In fact it is quite the opposite. Compact population is much easier to manage. I have cited the example of New York. It has the least per capita CO2 emissions in USA. It's mostly due to its compactness and excellent public transport system. Adapting green architecture is 100 per cent feasible or in my opinion is imperative.
In your chapter on transportation, you have mentioned aspects such as increasing the usage of bicycles and hybrid vehicles to reduce carbon emission. How feasible do you see this option, considering the distances to be commuted in big cities and the lack of provision for safety measures for cyclists on the roads today?
In bigger cities, cycling is difficult. But what we propose is, to have cycling for range of 5 km and using public transport beyond that. Hybrid vehicle technology is evolving rapidly, to become cheap and efficient. Soon we will have cars with mileage of 35-40 kmpl. We need to wait for fully battery operated cars, but battery operated auto rickshaws is already a reality.
You have talked about the usage of public transport as it emits only 10 per cent of CO2 as opposed to private vehicles. However with the element of social status and consciousness of the upper and affluent classes, how do you see this initiative being popularised amidst this segment?
We can popularize public transport by having 'Executive' buses like in Mumbai. That bus will have less number of stops, will follow the shortest route and will offer maximum possible comfort. That is the way to go.
You have emphasised how Indian education should adopt the IB [international baccalaureate] syllabus to promote entrepreneurship and smart jobs. Considering how students are trained these days and the rate of suicides due to relentless academic pressure, how do you see India achieving this, worthy of a smart city?
Smart people are essential for smart cities. I don't think education has any link with suicides. To quote Vivekananda, "Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in the man". Education will enhance the skillset of individuals, and with IB curriculum they will reach global standard.
You have talked about disaster management in your book. When it comes to catastrophes like the tsunamis and terror attacks, what are the provisions that a smart city should possess to battle these disasters?
In India, disaster management is a disaster and it's mostly due to lack of disaster management protocols. A smart city has to have a protocol to deal with disasters and every person should be well-versed with it. Also regular drills are important to mitigate disasters.
It is seen from your book that during the period of the Indus Valley Civilization, India had built planned cities like Mohenjodaro and Harrappa. While our forefathers had a vision why do you think that vision disappeared over time?
Rather than saying vision disappeared, I would like to phrase it as 'failure in implementation'. The "vision" ideas were always present but they failed to materialise. I think, autonomy of the cities is mainly responsible for this.
Earlier, cities or villages used to have complete functional and economic autonomy. We can still find beautifully crafted roads and some villages that have autonomy. Even in today's case, many small cities have done excellent work in urban and landscape planning. But nobody has enough money to replicate it to a whole city and I think this is the problem. We have to make cities economically autonomous. For starters, we should have a directly elected and empowered mayor like in the USA where mayor is a single authority of the city. This is the only way by which the 'forgone' vision could be reclaimed.
What are your future plans? Any more books in the pipeline?
As of now I am focusing on the promotion of my books. We are trying to arrange workshops for teachers, students, administrations and political leaders as well. All of us must unite to fight the challenge of global warming. While working for the book, I found out the impact of climate change on water and depleting sources of potable water. Further, quality of water is also an issue. I am planning to draft a report on water. Like this book, my book on water will also be a constructive discussion. It will give assessment and analysis of current situation with ideas for future. I believe, that book will also be welcomed by people at large, as these.
Book excerpt from Green Growth
Green Growth, (chapter: Domestic Consumption)
This is a new concept being advocated by Prof. Ashok Jhunjuhunwala of IIT Madras. It advocates that all appliances and lighting systems in a home is to be converted to DC.Power to these appliances and lighting systems be supplied by Rooftop Solar PV Systems.
- DC appliances and lighting systems consume less energy than AC appliances and lighting systems (almost 30%) as there would be no 'inductive losses' in DC systems.
- DC appliances like a fan would consume less energy if run at a low speed whereas an AC fan wastes the energy in resistive load when the fan is run at low speed.
- AC power generation, step up transformation to high voltage, transmission, step down transformation to lower voltage and distribution involves huge losses. Some say it is almost 50%! Solar powered DC home does away with all these losses.
- Many devices like TV or computer or LED lights actually run on DC power. Feeding them with DC supply would save rectification losses that are incurred when AC power is supplied to them.
In short, a day is not very far off when solar powered DC homes will become a reality, saving huge amounts of electricity for the nation.
Smart City, Unique social identity, page 47
A city has a certain cultural heritage that builds her unique social identity. For our Greenfield smart city it was a difficult task to build its unique social identity, but with proper thought it was attempted.
Our smart city being a city full of possibilities for employment, trade and services, people from all parts of India flock to it in search of opportunities. They have created a multilingual, multicultural atmosphere in our smart city. Due to cultural mixing everybody got to know about cultural practices in other parts of India and process of cultural mixing and eliminated tensions between communities. City University has a chair dedicated to linguistic and socio-cultural studies which further enhances the formation of a diverse but united society.
That gives us a clue what should be the unique social identity of our smart city:''Antar-Bharati''.
'Antar Bharati' is the identity and name of our smart city. Antar-Bharati is not only be techno-friendly but it is also cosmopolitan and progressive. Multicultural and multilingual populations reside in the city symbiotically with the local population.