BY Jayashree KINI-mendes
Although you have sold millions of pumps across the globe, how do you look at replacements and refurbishment of pumps?
Ranganath: Refurbishment of pumps does exist. But, are we refurbishing our pumps is the question we need to ask? What we are doing is replacing the smaller pumps after their normal life because we need to get them to work at a higher efficiency. Each generation of our pumps is more efficient than the previous one. The incentive to replace them is savings in power and money. Having said that, large pumps need not be replaced but can be refurbished as it makes economic sense. Even we look at refurbishment, we would still look at replacing motors because the motor efficiency is improving and today you find IE2 or IE3 motors fitted to equipment compared to what used to be IE-I motor. We are talking about IE5 motors coming into India.
At a time where states are in need of pumps, how are state governments looking at enhancing installations?
Ranganath: If you ask me in one sentence, the situation with many states, I would say, they are in dire need but also in dire straits. Not because they do not want to do better, but their planning cycle and the methodology of purchasing is such that they normally miss the boat. It takes a long time for governments to get project approvals and water being infrastructure, the projects are long drawn. They plan for five years – for as long as their government lasts and when the new government comes in, they question everything that the previous government did.
There is also a tendency to neglect the upkeep of existing pumping stations and pumps. Generally, there is no planned refurbishment or maintenance and no budgets for this. The pumps continue to run until they break down and there is a crisis. Some state governments are proactive in what they need to do and have been smart enough to rope in the private sector too for operations and maintenance.
Brief us on Lifelink and the kind of technology that treats surface water and solves drinking water problems?
Ramaswamy: Lifelink is a business vertical in Grundfos established in 2010. The intent is to support the developing world with clean and safe drinking water to a vulnerable community at a compelling price. Therefore, an NGO or a philanthrope takes over the complete system and the revenue earned is used for O&M. The two products in Lifelink are AQpure, which is the ultra-purification based water purification system, and, AQtap, an intelligent smart card based water dispenser that can be used at any water kiosk. Both are powered by solar power.
AQpure treats the critical physical and micro-biological contaminants of water seen predominantly in surface water. This system cannot treat water that has chemical contaminants in terms of dissolved solids, hardness, metal ions and minerals. It can operate both from solar and grid power and has the lowest power consumption of 350-400W to produce 1,000 litres of water. Water recovery is about 85%.
Let me tell you why we focused on surface water. India has about 7.8 crore people that do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. According to WHO estimates, about 3.8 crore people are affected by water-borne disease, of which 75% are under the age of five. India has approximately 61% of water available as surface water, but we continue to exploit bore wells and that is highly unsustainable. Some of the states that have bore well exploitation to the extent of 80-85% have started focusing on creating watersheds to make surface water available and the AQpure can be employed to treat this.
How are you increasing the base of AQpure and AQtap?
Ramaswamy: These are not cheap technologies. They are solutions for a community‘s drinking water supply. One would need either government or philanthropic aid to set it up. We are working with partners and are in touch with NGOs and CSR teams of large corporations who are intent on working towards providing potable water. Drinking water is also the UN SDG’s Goal number 6. It is for this reason that we are tying up with like-minded people, for instance, in Africa with the Red Cross, where water is an issue.
How do NGOs aid you in your mission?
Ranganath: It is not easy for private companies to approach villages. To gain the trust of village people and tribals, one needs the support of NGOs.
A major hurdle inhibiting growth of pumps in India is the economy. Industrial growth is down, the IIP index is not looking great, and real estate is down after demonetisation. All these things affect buying behaviour. The government is the largest buyer of pumps and a dip in the economy can affect buying. As far as AQpure products go, it is dependent on government funding, CSR funds and social entrepreneurs who have water as their focus area.
In terms of manufacturing, do you customise products?
Ranganath: To a small extent, yes. Customisation is required for motors and electronics. The mechanical part is unaffected under any circumstances. However, electrical parts can get affected as we have poor quality power and outages. The quality of power supply is far better in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Low voltage is not compatible with efficient equipment as they are sensitive, so one has to create inefficiency, as seen in motors in India, to make it reliable.
The upcoming facility at Ahmedabad. Could you tell us about investment, capacity and technology to be used at the plant?
Ranganath: It was a decision based on logistics. We have a supply chain in Gujarat from where we purchase stainless steel components. We buy the components from Gujarat; store them in Chennai to assemble the pumps. Since 57% of our business comes from Maharashtra and Gujarat, we would then ship the products back to the states. Since, we are conscious about CO2 levels, shipping the products by trucks was contrary to our stated intent that CO2 emission should be less than what we emitted in 2008. Setting up a plant in Gujarat or Maharashtra was the only choice.
We will manufacture about 40,000-45,000 pumps a year in Ahmedabad. The investment would be around Rs 20 crore without land and building, of which we have already spent Rs 12-13 crore. The technology would be the same as Chennai. We build our own test beds and across the world they come with one reference curve stored in a computer in Denmark.
Grundfos India is highly active in CSR. Please expound.
Ranganath: We have invited schools run by the government, colleges, architecture students, engineering colleges and students from slums across Tamil Nadu and we build awareness on saving energy and water. We also ask them to offer ideas on how we can improve things. We interact through a number of platforms such as CII and speak about energy efficiency and sustainability. We have signed up with the UN on SDG 6 and 13 which deals with water & sanitation and climate change. We are also a founder member of AEEE (Alliance for an energy efficient economy) focused on spreading awareness and creating an impact on energy efficiency in India.