Dr. H. N. Sharan:
It was during the period 1974-1979 when he became Director Engineering of BHEL that Dr. Sharan’s commitment to renewable energy for rural development began.
After his graduation in 1953, he started his professional career and spent a year as a trainee power plant engineer at the newly built Bokaro thermal power plant of DVC and then went to Manchester University. He completed his Ph.D. in 1957 with a thesis on heat transfer from coal flames for which he received an University Prize. His next 17 years were spent with Sulzer Brothers, Switzerland, a boiler technology leader at that time with licensees all round the world. He was responsible for research, development and design of once-through sub- and supercritical pressure boilers and advanced combustion and heat transfer systems for very large fossil fuel fired power plants. As manager R&D, he managed technology transfer and co-operation with the licensees, had a large number of patents to his credit and published a large number of technical papers in international journals.
He was invited by the Government of India to come back and participate in the restructuring of BHEL with the goal of making it an internally strong engineering company capable of holding on its own in the international power field. At BHEL, he was responsible for setting up a comprehensive in-house base for engineering, design and R&D for all the products supplied by BHEL to the power sector. Integrated product design and development teams with testing, field engineering and R&D facilities were set up at all the manufacturing locations. A power plant design and systems engineering division was established in Delhi and a corporate R&D Division was set up in Hyderabad. Quality Assurance at the corporate level was established to ensure the upgrading of quality control for in-house and sub-contracted products. Product engineering and development centres and laboratories were set up for the up-gradation of existing thermal, hydro and electrical products and new products such as fluidized bed boilers were developed and commercialized. BHEL became an implementing partner of R&D programs launched by Government of India in the energy sector with the mandate to develop, design, test, productionise & commercialise advanced coal technologies as well as Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs). Dr. Sharan strategised and supervised major RD&D projects such as solar heating systems in Hardwar, a 10 kW solar thermal power plant built at IIT, Chennai, and pilot plants for the development of coal gasification in Tiruchy and Hyderabad. He was a member on several national level policy making bodies and committees of Government of India and co-ordinated international energy cooperation programs with Germany, USA and USSR. He was one of the founder directors of NTPC and was on the board of several other technology organisations.
Dr. Sharan went back to Switzerland in 1979, convinced that the centralised power sector would not be able to meet the development needs of rural areas. Since then, while continuing to work on policy studies for international organisations and governments and on engineering, design and development of advanced conventional power plants, he spent increasingly more time on engineering, development, testing and commercialization of renewable energy technologies and products. These include small grid connected and stand alone PV plants; large solar thermal power plants including the development and testing of high temperature solar towers in Spain and medium temperature trough systems in India; biomass gasification plants in India and Switzerland; biogas projects and pure electric and hybrid rickshaws. He established a village society in Seuzach in 1994 which promoted, built and runs a still-operating photovoltaic power plant connected to the grid. He also promoted FREND, a Swiss co-operative society which co-promoted the first biomass gasification power plant of DESI Power in Orchha, India and financed another one in Kenya.
The culmination of the decades of work in the energy sector was the emergence of the concept of Independent Rural Power Producers (IRPPs) to be directly linked to income generation and job creation in villages. Decentralised stand-alone power plants based on renewable energy would function as the motor for development of villages and also reduce local pollution and the emission of CO2 at the national level. Decentralised Energy Systems India (DESI Power) was promoted to demonstrate this model with the active support of Dr. Ashok Khosla and his rural development NGOs, Development Alternatives and Tara. EmPloyment and Power Partnership projects have been built and field tested in a large number of plants over the years and they are now being commercialised in a large number of villages. Dr. Sharan, jointly with Dr. Jhirad of Rockefeller Foundation, conceptualised the SPEED program which is helping to integrate telecom towers as an anchor load in villages and can accelerate the process of large scale replication of the integrated model. Results show that the integration of power plants with agriculture, energy services and micro-enterprises can achieve what the traditional rural electrification programs have failed to do in 60 years of their existence.
Dr. Sharan is now working to make the case for the creation of a Decentralsied Energy Sector which, working in parallel with the Centralised Sector, should take the responsibility for integrated energy supplies and services in villages. Only such a model can create local jobs in large numbers to ensure that the economic and social fabric of India is not torn apart by the continuing stagnation of villages.