• Vikas Gaba, Partner |
4 min read

India is currently undergoing a massive transition towards clean and renewable energy. By 2047, the renewable energy capacity is likely to grow to 13 times the current, energy storage by 65 times, nuclear power by 8 times, power generation output by 4 times and an annual production capacity of 25 MMT of green hydrogen. These will require corresponding investments in electric and hydrogen grid infrastructure expansion. The challenge is not only implementation of these targets but also to do it in the most efficient and affordable manner.

Innovation and ‘Doing more with less’ will need to be the cornerstone of this transition, cutting across new materials, technology, supply chains, manufacturing, skills and so on. While the rapid transformation to a clean and resource-efficient energy ecosystem and a collaborative global action will be essential to drive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a need of the triple helix++ model of innovation to accelerate this journey towards energy transition. The term triple helix means interactions between ‘universities/academia’ – that engages in providing knowledge and research; ‘industry’ – that focuses on producing commercial goods and deployment; and government/policy – that creates a regulating market environment to foster economic and social development.

India has umpteen number of bilateral collaboration examples. For instance, the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for manufacturing of advanced solar cells or advance chemistry cell (ACC) for battery storage, solar bidding, biofuels under Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) Programme, procurement of energy storage under facilitative mechanism etc. are all examples of ‘government-industry’ collaboration. Likewise, India’s start-up ecosystem is a case in point for ‘government-academia’ collaboration, where collaboration between academic institutes and government institutions has led to the creation of 400+ incubators (including in tier 2/ tier 3 cities) supporting entrepreneurs, startups and students with promising ideas.

The triple helix++ model enables government-industry-academia collaboration to deliver innovation at scale hence encouraging innovation-led deployment. The most common example is Silicon Valley, U.S. where the government provided concessional land, tax benefits, favourable financing, aligning the requirements of IT companies and encouraging innovations. The space flourished with some of the best-known global IT companies. The openness and transparency encouraged university accelerators to collaborate, so much so that they took part in commercial activities through patenting and licensing, extending much beyond their original realm. In certain cases, it led to creation of hybridized entities like the Technology Transfer Offices within academic universities to foster the transformation of applied research into commercial value and goods.

In the emerging context of energy transition where sector boundaries are blurring, there will be multiple hybridized versions of the triple helix that need to be considered. These include a ‘quadruple helix’ that adds a fourth dimension i.e., public, civil society and media at large; and ‘quintuple helix (5-helix)’ that adds a fifth dimension i.e., natural environment to the framework. 

A classic case for the application of such hybridized approach is Mission Life launched by PM Modi during COP26 which focusses on nudging individual and collective action towards “Lifestyle for Environment”. Mission defines seven life themes: reduce waste, reduce e-waste, adopt healthy lifestyles, adopt sustainable food systems, say no to single use plastics, save water and save energy. All these themes are amenable to a 5-helix approach working together, for instance:

  • Policy action e.g., policy for waste segregation and management; energy use guidelines; appliance labelling schemes and so on.
  • Academic innovations and workforce skill building e.g., new innovations in waste management and recycling, prototyping low carbon materials and products; providing skilled and semi-skilled workforce; specialized trainings etc.
  • Industry action, by co-opting such innovation for mass scale production e.g., superefficient ACs and fans, large scale recycling of aluminium cans, glass bottles, metals etc.
  • People participation on awareness creation and adoption of measure instituted – voluntary or mandatory – e.g., adoption of EVs, buying choices for low carbon products and services
  • Natural environment - lowering the damage to natural habitats; avoid shift and improve policies

Energy transition is an all-encompassing economic transformation that will require collective action to alter changes in demand patterns, supply systems, and policies. As the life mission defines it, प्रकृति: रक्षति रक्षिता, - nature we must protect, and nature will protect us. Collective action involving all the five actors – policymakers-academia-industry-people-natural environment has to be at the core of this transformation.

[1]  The framework of Triple Helix was developed by Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff who published their paper “The Triple Helix---University-Industry-Government Relations: A Laboratory for Knowledge Based Economic Development,” in 1995.

A version of this article was published on Nov 20, 2023  by Financial Express Online