December 7, 2007 (AFP) – Saving the environment wasn’t as much on his mind as cutting costs when Indian entrepreneur Tulsi Tanti first turned to wind energy 13 years ago. Confronted with a soaring electricity bill and unpredictable power supply, Tanti had a pair of wind turbines installed at his textile plant in western India and became a quick convert to what became his business calling.
After building Suzlon into Asia’s biggest wind energy firm in 12 years, Tanti can claim credit for prescience in seizing a market opportunity from concerns over global warming and climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
The 49-year-old mechanical engineer has also become a hero of the global renewable energy movement as the world counts the cost of greenhouse gas emissions and developing economies such as India’s battle chronic power shortages requiring tens of billions of dollars in investment.
“From a Greenpeace perspective, he is definitely someone you would want as an ally, especially in an era of overdependence on coal-based energy,” said K. Srinivas, the Bangalore-based energy campaigner for the global group.
“He is expanding the renewable emergy market and that’s a wonderful thing,” Srinivas added.
Tanti is sparing no effort in his quest to vault Suzlon into one of the world’s top three wind energy companies after overtaking Siemens of Germany to grab the fifth spot last year.
This year, he won control of the German turbine maker REpower after a bidding war with Areva of France to capitalise on growing global demand for wind power. Last year, he purchased Belgium’s Hansen, a maker of wind-turbine gearboxes.
Tanti has been busy this month with a 10-day “internal strategy” session in the beach resort of Goa, followed by the Diwali Hindu festival of light and overseas travel and was not available to comment for this story, his company’s spokesmen said.
– “Wind is important for saving the world of tomorrow” –
But he has said plenty already about the merits of what has become his driving passion.
“Wind energy can and will play one of the most important roles in saving the world of tomorrow, today,” Tanti said recently. “We drive our business as a cause, one where we power a greener tomorrow.”
Fossil fuels are the world’s biggest energy source but burning them produces heat-trapping greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, currently being debated at a global summit in the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
For Tanti, who founded Suzlon with three brothers in 1995 when he was little known, the accidental stumble into green energy has proved profitable.
His net worth was estimated this year by Forbes at 10 billion dollars, making the chairman and managing director of Suzlon one of the 40 richest in a country of 1.1 billion people.
Suzlon, based in Pune, western India, logged a net profit increase of 68 percent to a record 3.98 billion rupees (101.2 million dollars) in the quarter ended September 30 on a 77 percent jump in sales to 36.41 billion rupees.
“The wind is blowing stronger than ever,” Tanti commented when the company released its earning statement on October 23.
From 20 people, Suzlon’s workforce has grown to 12,000 and it has a presence in 15 countries spread across five continents.
Its initial share sale in 2005 was 46 times subscribed, vaulting it to the list of India’s top 25 companies by market value.
– “Technology cannot match the merits of wind” –
With profits came global recognition for Tanti, chosen by Time magazine this year as one of the “most innovative and influential protectors of the planet” and by Forbes as one of the world’s “greenest billionaires”.
Profits can only grow for a company that had 4.1 billion dollars of orders to install 3,250.55 megawatts of wind energy as of October 20, including 500 million dollars for 368.50 megawatts in India.
The worldwide installed capacity of wind power reached 74,223 megawatts at the end of 2006, with India’s 7,000 megawatts trailing only Germany, Spain and the United States.
Suzlon, which has a 7.7 percent share of the global market and almost 50 percent of India’s, is eyeing expansion of capacity to 4,200 megawatts by March next year, from 2,700 megawatts.
Tanti estimates that demand for wind power will grow 25 percent a year as governments spur the use of more environmentally friendly alternative energy sources.
“There are no major renewable energy sources that can compete with wind energy,” Vivek Kher, a vice president and spokesman at Suzlon, said recently.
“Technology has not been able to make solar energy grid-friendly,” he went on. “The environmental impact of hydel (hydro-electric) power is a major consideration in many parts of the world; many other energy forms such as wave energy and geothermal energy are in the realm of the unknown.”
As the time taken to install wind turbines comes down and the machines become more reliable and perform better, wind power is becoming a favoured choice of energy.
India’s government offers lucrative incentives to develop and promote the use of wind energy, allowing companies to write off 80 percent of the cost of installing turbines in the first year, said energy expert Gaurav Gandhi.
Wind power users also enjoy cheaper tariffs, said Gandhi, who estimates that India has a potential market of 66,000 megawatts for what he calls the “safest source of electricity without any emissions”.
“Tanti grabbed the opportunity that was there but government policies are responsible to some extent for his success,” said Gandhi, a research associate at the Energy and Resources Institute.