We need to re-skill women for greater participation in the clean energy space: Vaishali Nigam Sinha

Published on :

8 March 2024

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money control

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Sinha says that perhaps women from the coal sector can be re-skilled to become technicians in RE projects. ReNew has re-skilled salt pan workers to work as solar technicians.

She has recently been appointed the co-chair of Business-20’s (a business dialogue forum) finance and infrastructure vertical, and has her say in the boardroom of NASDAQ-listed green energy company ReNew. In an exclusive interview with Moneycontrol, Vaishali Nigam Sinha, Co-Founder and Chairperson of Sustainability, ReNew, talks to us about India’s renewable energy push, the perceptions about ESG norms, and women in the clean energy sector.


Edited excerpts:

In the last two years, the pace of energy transition has somewhat slowed and we have seen an increase in coal-fired energy. How do you view this, and what can be done to ensure we do not regress from this path?

Electricity, whether it is clean or dirty, must be available. India is a large country and it is a democracy. Energy security, accessibility, and affordability are among the principal guiding factors for our leaders and rightly so. Given the current global geopolitical issues, the Indian government needs to ensure that people have electricity.

Coming to India, I think we are on the right track to ensuring energy transition while ensuring energy access to all. We now have the ambitious target of setting up 500 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy generation capacity by 2030. It's a tripling of what we've done till now, in one-third of the amount of time. The government is now aiming to add 50 GW of renewable energy (RE) capacity every year. So, I think our leadership is on the right path concerning its strategy.

India’s progress has not been slow. It's been a lot better than some of the developed countries.

As co-founder of a business, do you see sustainability and diversity as elements that are needed for profitability, and not just for compliance and fundraising? Do you think these are important elements? How do you view them when you are looking at your own business?

I know you're referring to this whole debate around ESG — should it be there or not?

I think nobody disagrees that as long as we look at ESG strategically, and look where it's adding value to shareholders, I think nobody differs on its need. But sometimes it's used as a greenwashing tool, and then people step up and say, define what you're doing, can we measure it, and so on.

So, as co-founder of a renewable energy company, I feel that ESG and sustainability are very important. I would say these are good because it's helping us do business in a better way, in a way which is de-risking us.

All our ESG targets get reported in our risk register. It also improves our monitoring of risks associated with climate, environment, and governance issues. It's helping us be a better-run company, which makes for better profitability. Everybody, including investors, financial institutions, and regulators is asking for some basic ways in which companies can follow such practices. For example, you will not be able to achieve your ESG goals if 80 percent of Global Inc is not contributing to net zero goals, and don't have its own net zero goals. As of now, less than 20 percent of the top 1,000 companies have such disclosures.

Coming to women in the clean energy space now, do you think there is a gap when we talk of pay parity and whether the number of women in this space is enough?

Look, India is now going to put 50 GW of RE capacity year-on-year. You need a lot of human resources on the ground for this. You need to skill, and re-skill people. Companies like ours are hiring a lot of women. In our solar manufacturing plant, we have a women-led segment. Then we have a couple of RE projects, which are women-led sites. So, these are symbolic ways in which we are trying to say that there are opportunities for women in this sector.

But we need a lot more women. We can perhaps also re-skill women from the coal sector to become technicians in RE projects. Once women learn how to work they can adapt and do different things. In ReNew, our Surya project is an example of this. Here, we are getting salt pan workers to work as solar technicians.

Besides, we are also working with the government and industry associations to ensure that not just us, but other companies also skill women so that they increasingly become a part of India’s energy transition journey.

We need engineers, for which we need more STEM students — graduates and engineers. We need to also go back a little bit in the lifecycle of a woman, where we need an enabling environment so that we get more female engineers in this (clean/green energy) sector. Families should encourage and push their girls to go there, not just the boys.

We are also working with institutes like IIT to come up with a very specific renewable energy graduate program.

I'm not proud of the fact that we only have 10 percent diversity in our management committee. However, we do have 40 percent diversity and inclusion (D&I) at our board level. It's perhaps the highest, maybe in the world, and that makes a lot of difference as well.

If you have a goal for the next financial year, what would that be?

One driver which will feed into financial goals would be execution, execution, and better execution. I think that's the most critical thing for us to do.

I would also wish for the interest rate environment to be better so that we can get better access to capital, which is critical in our sector. As far as D&I is concerned, I do want to see that from 10 percent, we at least have 50 percent women in our senior management. I'm also working very hard to make sure we have more women in middle management and other roles because women understand the issues around clean energy a lot more as they tackle these issues at home and in rural areas on a day-to-day basis.