Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT Madras - often referred to as Dronacharya for his contributions to the cause of entrepreneurship is considered the pioneer in nurturing Industry academia interaction in India towards R&D, Innovation and Product Development. He conceived and built the first Research Park (IIT Madras Research Park) in India which houses over 100 R&D companies in its 1.2 million square feet built-up area.
“We should make India a design house in technology”
Currently, he and his team are working on the concept of off-grid homes—in which individual homes run on solar power alone—and what they call GOA (green offices and apartments) for multiple dwellings, where each apartment can set the DC-power limits from 100 to 400 watts and solar power can be supplemented from the grid. “We have designed and commercialized these two concepts. The system can be expanded by using more solar panels,” he says.
He has installed a small 125 watt solar system at his home and recalls that for almost 3 days when the entire campus of IIT Madras went without electricity in the aftermath of the heavy rains, the only home that had uninterrupted power was his own where he had installed the ‘decentralised DC solar system’. He says “this breakthrough technology developed by IIT Madras is an extremely efficient way to use electricity.”
Prof Jhunjhunwala, who has ancestral roots in Rajasthan, says the Phalodi project is “very satisfying as it gave a great support to the local people even during the peak of the heat wave”. He feels if the IIT Madras experiment works it could be the model for providing reliable electricity to isolated homes that are hard to connect to the grid. Even apartments in urban set.
Just to mention his positions at various organization, he is the director of the Board of Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Limited, Polaris, Sasken, Tejas, Tata Communications, Exicom, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Private Limited, and Intellect Design Arena Ltd. He was also a member of the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Committee from 2004 to 2014. He was bestowed with the Padma Shri in 2002. He is chair or member of several committees, including the Technology Information, Forecasting, Technology Advisory Committee of the Securities and Exchange Board of India; Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council and the IIT committee for solar energy installation among many others. He is a Fellow of the IEEE, the World Wireless Research forum, and several Indian academies.
He says that Entrepreneurship has an indispensable role to play in taking the country forward. It is that which generates economic wealth, employment and also an overall positive mood in the country. Just one successful company can create a lot of positive vibes. That success creates hope in the budding entrepreneurs. Besides, It also plays an extremely important role in translating knowledge into products. Entrepreneurship plays a crucial role in translating prototypes which would have stayed in labs into successful products. This is the first key to the academia industry. Innovation startup do much more innovation than an established company. Established companies do routine and mundane jobs. On the other hand, in innovation start-up’s rate of change is exponential. Therefore in terms of young students it plays a transformative character. It models them into better individuals and invokes idiosyncratic culture. As compared to doing MS, PhD, joining any industry or investment banking, this is by far most rewarding career. IIT Madras has quickly became a pioneer in this regard.