Reji Kumar Pillai is president, India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF), a think tank that is advising the Ministry of Power, regulators and utilities on how to accelerate the development of smart grid technologies in the power sector.
This is a hugely demanding and challenging job. As president, ISGF, Pillai is using his expertise to spearhead a mission to leverage technology to transform the electric grid in India and light every home at an affordable cost through sustainable developmental models. Last year, he was elected chairman of the Global Smart Grid Federation (GSGF), an umbrella organisation of smart grid associations from various countries.
Pillai played a pivotal role in formulating the Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India in 2013, launching the National Smart Grid Mission in 2015, formulating the Model Smart Grid Regulations, and helping the Bureau of Standards draw up standards for smart meters. “The Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India is a very important policy document because, for the first time, the government said it will provide lifeline supply of power (not just connections where a wire is connected but means nothing) for six-eight hours to all customers during the evening,” he says.
Pillai had the kind of pastoral childhood spent in the lap of nature in Kerala that is disappearing these days. His parents had a large tract of farmland in Pathanapuram village, two hours from Thiruvananthapuram.
After graduating in mechanical engineering, he joined NTPC in Delhi as a trainee engineer in 1981, working in project management. After six years, he left to set up his own transmission construction firm. Based in Delhi, he handled projects all over India, including Punjab at the height of the Khalistan separatist militancy, Assam at the height of the ULFA agitation, and Jammu & Kashmir in the early years of the armed insurgency.
When he shut down the company eventually, it was not because of risk to life and limb. Not that he settled for a quiet desk job after this. Pillai started working as a part-time consultant on various international assignments, which took him to countries wracked by violence – Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Kabul. After a short spell with IBM, he came to head the ISGF in 2011 in what is an honorary post.
Pillai is not clear what he will do when his tenure ends in 2019, but one thing is clear: the technology that will change the face of the world is his passion.