I spent four years working closely with Pranav Mehta and saw how his five decades of service shaped today’s Indian solar sector and contributed to India and the world.
A 31-year-old Mehta conceived, advocated for, and implemented the use of natural gas, rather than coal, for steelmaking. He left Tata Steel to join the Gujarat government in 1982 and, eight years later, his lobbying led to India’s first gas-based “sponge iron” steel plant, at Hazira. The site saved millions of tons of emissions associated with coking coal-based production and brought employment and economic benefits.
Mehta was honored with the Ministry of Steel and Mines’ National Metallurgist Award in 1990, presented at the Indian Institute of Metals, and he was praised by future president A P J Abdul Kalam at the ceremony.
As compressed natural gas advisor to Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation – an appointment made by then-Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi – Mehta was instrumental in reducing air pollution in the megacity of Ahmedabad and other cities in the state.
Mehta’s solar journey began in 2006 and, working with former state body the Planning Commission of India, he drove the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to produce India’s first solar policy two years later. From that initial goal of 50 MW of solar generation capacity, India now has 63 GW, and is the world’s fifth largest solar state.
In May 2013, Mehta founded trade body NSEFI to represent the whole solar supply chain, including regional, national, and international developers; manufacturers; engineering, procurement, and construction contractors; installers; and system integrators; including small and medium-sized enterprizes.
NSEFI works with central and state governments towards India’s goal of 450 GW of renewables capacity by 2030 and achieved the goal of making solar affordable in less than a decade, under Mehta’s leadership.
NSEFI also played an important role in co-founding the Global Solar Council at the COP21 climate change summit in Paris in 2015, along with other national solar associations. This step was an important recognition of India’s growing role in the global solar narrative. Later, in 2019, Mehta became the first Indian to chair the Global Solar Council and his tenure was marked by advocacy on global platforms, especially in developing countries, for the need to accelerate solar installation. Mehta was also the first Indian to sit on the seven-member steering committee of the International Renewable Energy Agency’s Coalition for Action, in 2019.
In view of the success of India with solar energy, and of Shri Mehta’s leadership and involvement in the industry, he was invited by governments and other institutions from 15 countries including the USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, China, Taiwan, Qatar, the UAE, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Egypt to share his views and experience in the areas of policy advocacy, the planning of solar growth, skills development, and the application of solar energy to ensure sustainable growth. Through these global efforts and activity Mehta kept the Indian flag flying high worldwide.
Awards and recognition
Mehta has received accolades, both in India and across the globe. Key awards he was honored with include the Solar Visionary Influencer and Disruptor Award from the Abu Dhabi-based Cleantech Business Club, in 2019. This award had previously been received by Tony Seba, of Stanford University, and former German MP Hans-Joseph Fell.
Shri Mehta also received the Outstanding Green Activist Award from the Indian Federation of Green Energy, with the honor presented by Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister of Roads, Transport, and Highways, in 2019. The Indian solar champion received the Global Excellence Award in Renewable Energy 2017, from the Energy and Environment Foundation and then-energy minister Piyush Goyal.
Mehta’s efforts had a significant socioeconomic impact, in terms of catalyzing large investment, creating entrepreneurship in the micro, small, and medium-sized enterprize (MSME) sector – especially for young entrepreneurs – and he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium enterprises with the recognition bestowed by MSME minister Haribhai Chaudhari in 2017.
In Shri Mehta, the world has lost a climate warrior, the nation has lost a true son and energy ambassador, and the Indian solar industry has lost a visionary leader. The best tribute we can pay to him is to continue his legacy by taking forward his work and building on the foundations of his vision for a sustainable India and a sustainable world.
About the author: Subrahmanyam Pulipaka is NSEFI chief executive. He is one of the youngest winners of the BRICS Young Scientist Award 2018. A well-known speaker at various solar and renewable energy events in India, Pulipaka has represented India in various scientific and technology platforms worldwide, including in the United States, China, Russia, and Rwanda. With a research background in solar module reliability, he has published more than a dozen research articles in internationally-acclaimed journals. He is also the founding chairman of the India Africa Youth Energy Forum, a platform dedicated to nurturing future energy leaders in the two markets.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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