Tomorrow will differ from yesterday; as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant.” The ability to handle change between yesterday and tomorrow, but more importantly between tomorrows-to-come to the days after-tomorrows-to-come, would differentiate between the good and the best.
For years, and at the time when I first started working in the energy sector in India, the emphasis was on accelerating coal and oil & gas use, and cleaning it up. For example, some 35 years ago, I worked on developing fuel cell technology, but the goal was more efficient and cleaner coal utilization through coal gas. Hydrogen as a directly available fuel was unheard of in those days. We spoke of converting coal gas to hydrogen, natural gas to hydrogen, and so on.
Just 35 years later, the preoccupations in the energy sector have entirely changed. Now renewables are the prime source of energy. More than $400 billion was invested globally in renewable electricity generating capacity in 2021, compared to less than $140 billion in fossil fuel generating capacity in the same year. This implies that many of us trained in coal utilization — my Ph.D., for example, was in coal-burning fluidized bed boilers — have had to restructure our mental frameworks to remain relevant in these changed times.
Now, imagine the implications of this shift for an organization over an individual. Let’s take Indian utility NTPC, for example, which has about 58,000 MW of coal-based power generation capacity and about 18,000 people — of which approximately 10,000 are engineers who design, install, and maintain power stations. NTPC has now pivoted from coal-based power generation to renewable electricity generation. They have installed over 3,000 MW of renewable electricity and are looking to install 60,000 MW of renewable capacity by 2032. On the other hand, they look to expand to about 3,000 MW of coal-based capacity, which has led to NTPC creating new companies to attract capital, manage RE assets and so on. But their most important undertaking to manage their transition is a major reskilling initiative within the organization to steer this change. And this need for reskilling is an aspect that most people, both in the workplace and management, have not even considered.
What are then the fundamentals behind managing technological change? Human resource reskilling is a critical issue, but even more important than the corporate context is the personal context: how do we change to fit into a changing world? The world 20 years from now will be a very different place, just as the world of today is so different from the world of the 1990s. Just imagine the changes that will occur across sectors and not just in the realm of energy.
We must consider what it will take to be “future fit.” The essential pillar, in my opinion, will remain a good education, with clear fundamentals and an educational experience that stresses developing life skills and understanding the curricula. Additionally, the ability to learn on the go and master new trends continually will help in becoming future influencers, rather than being followers.
In the solar sector, where I currently work, we have seen examples of such influencers of change in the development of new and innovative designs and of standard operating procedures. For example, an Indian company with a rather non-Indian name, Sterling and Wilson, is today one of the world leaders in installing and maintaining solar systems. The installation, and the supply chain required for the installation, are based on a set of standard operating procedures, which are periodically reviewed considering the recent experience and have helped in both standardizing and accelerating the process. A visit to their website is an education: their learnings in various issues are captured and presented there.
Similarly, companies that have focused on creating the decision-making structures that enable the adoption of solar energy, despite its higher first cost, have become market leaders in their segments. For example, the Mahindra group of companies has established an internal carbon price that enables investment in solar projects over those based on fossil fuels. This enabled it to “see” electric vehicles as the future.
Similarly, in the Tata group of companies, an institutional architecture has been created, which enables investment decisions that favor sustainability, with the investment decisions being made at the senior management level, and then institutionalized processes decide on procurement, implementation, operation, marketing, etc. They are the other big electric vehicle player in the Indian market. They are also investing in manufacturing and installing solar cells, looking at making steel low and zero carbon.
We are seeing knowledge, technological, and managerial changes speed up around us. The status quo is changing and will continue to change. Managing change is a key ability that separates and will continue to separate the wheat from the chaff.
So, how do we make ourselves change-ready? There are two important qualities in the people who have successfully managed the change of tomorrow.
The first is the ability to read and read broadly: literature, popular fiction, technology, as well as management and finance. We need to find the time to do so. My window is early mornings, much to the dislike of my dog, who passed away in 2021 after being with us for about fifteen and a half years. He used to get very upset when I woke up early in the morning to catch up on my reading, which disturbed his sleep. It was a daily tussle explaining to him that he had to find a different corner so that I could read, and he could carry on sleeping. The second quality, dependent on the first but not a necessary follow-on, is introducing and integrating the ideas we have discovered through our readings into methodologies and practices in our fields and persevering with changes if they don’t work the first time.
For example, in the energy sector, we started reading about the revolutionary LED lamps in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, we established many demonstration projects to show and popularize them, which could have yielded better results. However, by 2012, the price of LED lamps had come down to a level where they were cheaper than conventional incandescent lamps and even CFLs, but on a lifetime basis, not a first-cost basis. This led, on the one hand – through a specially created company, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) – to an extensive procurement program to bring the prices down, and on the other hand, to making the LED bulbs available to consumers in installments. The monthly installments were less than the monthly savings due to replacing CFLs with LED lamps. And what a revolutionary change it has been. Today, it isn’t easy to find a CFL bulb anywhere; almost all lighting sources are now LED and have been for over five years.
So how do we read widely, and how do we integrate new ideas into the work processes of our areas?
Books and magazines are good choices. Still, for most of us, the first thing that comes to mind, and something that we have all used today, is the internet for educating ourselves on new technologies, ideas, and trends, primarily through search engines. We have often “copied and pasted” from websites identified by Google, especially when entering new study areas. However, cutting and pasting is unethical, and there are programs such as “Turnitin” to ensure the originality of the work. We have also seen that among the wheat, as opposed to the chaff, cutting and pasting decreases as one grows more proficient in a subject. Their writing reflects their own experiences rather than those of websites from which they had cut and pasted earlier. But, good or bad, Google and other search engines have helped us learn and manage change.
We are now seeing the development of artificial intelligence – especially of programs such as ChatGPT and Google Bard, which are based on natural language processing. The experience these tools lend is both experiential and exceptional. For example, when I typed into ChatGPT: “The future is about change. Solar energy is a change agent, and so is ChatGPT. The future will be about the ability to talk to ChatGPT about solar energy.”
And lo and behold, within seconds, ChatGPT responded, and it is instructive to read the complete response, which I note here:
“The development of AI technology and large language models, like ChatGPT, are also change agents in their own right and have the potential to impact the future in many ways. The ability to converse with AI models like ChatGPT is convenient and opens up new opportunities for education, research, and innovation. For example, ChatGPT can provide quick and accurate answers to questions about solar energy, making it easier for people to learn about and understand this important technology. It can also be used to analyze data and make predictions about solar energy and the energy sector more broadly. Moreover, the use of AI in the energy sector is already leading to innovations and improvements, such as optimizing solar panel placement and developing innovative grid systems that can better manage energy distribution.
In short, the future of solar energy and AI technology is intertwined, and both have the potential to drive positive change and shape the world in exciting and meaningful ways.”
This response is pretty good! It is the high-quality output that is “thoughtful”, relevant, and specific. It is well-written, and is also correct.
I found that increasing or decreasing the length and detail of the input query to ChatGPT and even repeating the same question can change the response. This suggests that all ChatGPT answers are original, and the response depends on the input query. This suggests that ChatGPT and other natural language processors have the potential to reshape our lives and our experiences completely. These responses are a much faster way of learning and sharing our learning.
In a sense, this is like many search engines. In Google, for example, the input quality determines which websites are identified because of that query. Consequently, our future is about how we interact with the ChatGPTs (i.e., AI tools) of the future: how we phrase our input queries and fact-check the responses.
There is no doubt that a well-phrased input query enhances our productivity many times. It remains to be seen whether the AI algorithms that power ChatGPT and its brothers can sift between knowledge on the one hand and false news on the other. Still, AI and the language of the input query provide us with a powerful tool against incorrect information. There is also the fear that using these tools would enhance electronic intrusiveness in our lives, consequently increasing the chances of remote data capture due to this improved intrusiveness.
There will be questions on how we use the ChatGPTs and Google Bards of the future. For example, here are four questions:
- Will the outputs from these AI-based natural language programs be more acceptable in the classrooms of tomorrow than the cut-and-paste from internet searches are today?
- Will we find ways to capture the enhanced productivity of using these AI-based natural language programs in class and at work?
- Will prompt engineering, as the structuring and phrasing of input queries are being referred to, be taught in schools, or will we continue to learn it entirely on our own?
- Will there be methodologies and rules of thumb that help us fact-check the responses produced by these programs?
These programs foretell that disruptive change could occur in our homes, classrooms, and offices. We must be ready for this change, regardless of whether offices and schools formally incorporate it.
We must ensure that we are prepared to manage change: the change has been happening and will continue to occur worldwide. This is obviously a challenge for us, but it is also a great opportunity. Our ability to integrate new knowledge into our skills and worldview will determine how we move with time. Learning new knowledge is essential, and new skills could help us become more change ready.
Ajay Mathur is the Director General of the International Solar Alliance (ISA)
This article is part of a monthly column by the ISA.
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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