Coming to India to head Wärtsilä as president and managing director (MD) in April was a homecoming of sorts for Neeraj Sharma because he had worked with the company about 20 years ago, from 1993 to 1996. But the power sector has since undergone gigantic changes. With renewable energy now coexisting with conventional power generation, integrating renewables with the system is a challenge. Earlier, when renewable energy’s contribution was small, it could easily be managed. But the government’s targets for wind and solar are of an altogether different order now. Moreover, lower prices have also changed the landscape.
“The challenge with renewable energy is the big variations in supply that need to be balanced in real time by the rest of the grid. Integration is a huge challenge because our base load plants do not have the flexibility to accommodate these peaks and troughs,” Sharma says.
According to him, energy storage has become an important part of every power system and it is Wärtsilä’s topmost priority too. Moreover, the future of energy is hybrid, he believes. “In some markets, renewables are competing neck and neck with traditional power generation and lowering the entry barriers for hybrid solutions. Fast-starting, internal combustion engines, integrated with energy storage, offer considerable potential for fuel and cost savings. With these innovative solutions, existing and future customers will be able to utilise energy storage technology together with traditional engine-based power generation,” he says. On leaving school, Sharma enrolled with the Directorate of Marine Engineering Training (DMET), now known as the Indian Maritime University, in Kolkata in 1978 to prepare for a marine engineer’s career.
He spent most of his time with the Great Eastern Shipping Company, first as a junior engineer in 1982 and later as chief engineer. In 1990, he joined the sales team at Thermax. Later in his career at GE, from 2005 to 2009, he rounded off his capabilities by taking up a management role. But Sharma really came into his own as a leader while working with elevator and escalator company Kone Corporation, Finland.
Sharma likes to travel with his family to different countries. He plans to go to Scotland to sample single malts and to play golf at St Andrews next year. Longer term, he wants to contribute to society in some way. “I don’t have any definite ideas yet, but the seed has been sown.”