[pagebreak:Next Cleantech Hub: India?] Could India be the world’s next greentech hub?
Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla thinks so.
At the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco this week, the Khosla Ventures founder and managing partner -- and Sun Microsystems co-founder -- said the country, with its vast intellectual talent, is well-positioned to develop some of the next big greentech breakthroughs.
The United States simply doesn’t have enough energy scientists, he said.
"The single biggest challenge in cleantech is really a lack of technologists here. No self-respecting Ph.D. graduate in the last 10 years has studied energy," he said, adding that the stigma is quickly changing, with energy becoming a popular subject in U.S. colleges. "That’s where engineers and technologists in India can complement [the industry]. They are actually doing what they were trained to do."
Khosla pointed to fuel-cell startup Bloom Energy, which is building a "massive" facility in Mumbai, and said that companies are building testing centers in India to take advantage of the country’s engineering talent.
And initiatives such as Kyoto’s clean-development mechanism create millions of dollars in incentives for cleantech innovation in India, he said.
In another sign of growth, the Cleantech Group announced Tuesday that it has expanded into India with offices, its first market report on cleantech trends in India -- expected to be published next month -- and an inaugural Cleantech Forum India slated for October.
Khosla will serve as the chairman of the Cleantech India Advisory Board.
Jashwinder Kaur, executive director of the Indian Venture Capital Association in Delhi and the Cleantech Group’s country director for India, said she expects to see India become a center for cleantech innovation as early as this year, after a number of venture groups raising money for cleantech funds begin looking to spend.
Venture-capital and private-equity investment in India already grew about 58 percent to $210 million last year, compared with $133 million in 2006, according to the Cleantech Group.
Kaur said that India has a culture of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation, pointing to the impact the country has had on the IT industry. The Cleantech Group plans to work to increase the deal flow in India by playing matchmaker, she said, and is looking for entrepreneurs who want to connect with global investors.
Not surprisingly, Khosla and Kaur also expect India to become a large market for green technologies, as its demand for energy skyrockets.
Kaur said environmental awareness in India has grown tremendously since she moved to Delhi from Canada less than two years ago. She pointed to evidence such as grocery stores and parks banning plastic bags. "I wouldn’t have imagined that two years ago," she said.
Of course, challenges remain. For one thing, clean-energy sources are too expensive today.
Pankaj Sehgal, director and head of technology and cleantech investments at the Sun Group, said many users of dirty energy, such as kerosene, are poor, making taxes on carbon politically unacceptable.
The environment still isn't a major priority in India because it is facing "more mundane, pressing issues," he said.
But India is the fifth-largest polluter today and will soon be the third, meaning it will face strong political pressure to go greener, he said.
And with a population of 1.1 billion consumers, far larger than that of the United States, it's potentially a "huge" and "very fertile" market, he said.
As clean technologies get cheaper, Khosla said he expects India to adopt them.
"I subscribe to a fairly radical view that fossil fuels are going to be more expensive than clean technologies and then the question of adoption goes away," he said. "The question of what to do with India and China are both very relevant and very solvable. The critical thing is to empower entrepreneurs to do what they have to do."
Hycrete, a startup that makes concrete the company claims is recyclable, waterproof and less toxic than regular concrete, certainly expects to sell to India.
CEO David Rosenberg told Greentech Media the company will provide concrete for what will be the tallest building in Mumbai, slated to have more than 60 floors. The company already has begun shipping for the project and construction is expected to begin in two months, he said.
India is an "obvious" growth market for Hycrete, Rosenberg said, adding that the company also is targeting Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
"We're picking growth countries, not places with a lot of buildings already," he said.
It might be unintuitive, but customers in those developing markets are willing to use more of Hycrete's concrete, even though it costs more than regular concrete, because they already pay even more to waterproof their buildings now, he said.
Consider India's monsoon season. Buildings in India also tend to include a lot of tile work, resulting in leaks on the floors, Rosenberg said.
So while most U.S. projects only are using Hycrete's concrete for foundations, plaza areas and roofing systems, the Mumbai project is using the concrete for the whole building, he said.