Intelligent Energy was one of the firms that stood out among the deals struck during PM Modi's UK visit last November. Its CEO writes exclusively for India Inc. on the potential of fuel cell technology in fighting India's air pollution challenge. We can't live without it, the air that we breathe quite literally sustains us, but all around the world, pollution in the air is causing thousands of premature deaths.According to a report from the World Health Organisation, polluted air accounted for 7 million deaths globally during 2012. To put that in perspective, this is equivalent to the entire population of Hong Kong.High growth regions were hardest hit, with 5.9 million air pollution-related deaths in South-east Asia and the Western Pacific alone. In India, a generally heightened reliance on oil has combined with increased coal consumption to trigger a 4.4 per cent rise in CO2 emissions, and has led to air pollution that is eating into crop yields. In China, cities such as Beijing, where air quality index (AQI) readings commonly exceed levels that the WHO considers unsafe, have at times been declared “almost uninhabitable” and most recently prompted a pollution red alert.A recent study showed that 35 per cent of schoolchildren in India have poor lung function. The survey, covering 2,000 children in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata, has linked poor lung function to rampant air pollution in metro cities. The recent smog which engulfed Delhi has been blamed largely on the increasing number of diesel vehicles on the road.One of the ways to improve air quality rests with the use of cleaner alternative energy sources.Intelligent Energy's business in India aims to bring reliable and clean energy solutions to more than 27,400 of the country's diesel-reliant telecom towers through provision of more efficient power.The deployment of hydrogen fuel-cell power to Indian telecom towers marks a watershed transformation of the Indian power grid, which has been blamed for stifling India's economic growth due to persistent unreliability. Over 70 per cent of India's circa 425,000 telecom towers experience power outages of approximately eight hours per day leaving nearly half of the country's 935 million mobile phone users frequently disconnected for extended periods. Intelligent Energy aims to reduce the diesel consumption of each tower while also increasing uptime.The goal is to replicate this activity across more towers and more sectors in the future, including putting cleaner cars on the road. Intelligent Energy's fuel cell initiative in the telecom sector is only part of the company's ambitions for hydrogen fuel cells. Such efforts dovetail with the Indian government's commitment to alternative energy sources - efforts in which India is taking a global leadership position.Subsequent to announcing our intention to leverage the large scale deployment opportunity for fuel cells that is offered by our energy management business in India was the meeting of 193 nations at the recent global climate conference COP21 to discuss limiting the scale and impact of global warming.Not only was the summit successfully concluded with a commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, but a landmark decision was taken to increase the adoption of electric and hydrogen vehicle technology.The historic declaration and call to action, which was signed by the likes of the International Energy Agency, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the tyre manufacturer Michelin Worldwide and carmakers Tesla Motors and the Renault-Nissan Alliance, mandates signatories to “work individually as well as collectively wherever possible to increase electro-mobility to levels compatible with a less-than 2-degree pathway.”Lower emissions on all fronts will mean better air quality across the planet. Our efforts to develop efficient, reliable hydrogen alternatives to diesel combustion in both generators and car engines, together with this global commitment to increase the adoption of hydrogen vehicle technology gives us good reason for optimism.It's clear that the world is waking up to this important issue, and Intelligent Energy is well positioned to make important contributions to the cause.For years, the world has pondered a postfossil fuels future and the role of alternative fuels. But now, that future is closer than ever and the sooner mass scale adoption is achieved, the sooner we can all breathe a safe and clean sigh of relief.
Dr Henri Winand is the Chief Executive of Intelligent Energy. He was previously Vice President of Corporate Venturing at Rolls-Royce plc and is a Governing Board member of the European Union's Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU). He completed his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge.