The COVID-19 pandemic has been extensively disruptive in terms of economic activity and loss of human lives across the globe. At the same time, this crisis has presented us with unique opportunities that can be leveraged to build back differently and innovatively. India’s urban population will double in the next decade.
More than half a billion people will live, work and travel in Indian cities. This rapid growth will pose several social, economic and environmental challenges. India must take the lead to build new industries that will accelerate growth and create jobs. This transformation is feasible when we advance technology, foster innovation and become champions in emerging areas of global growth. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and in recent times China focused on sunrise sectors, unleashed a wave of reforms and embraced innovation to grow on sustained basis for long time periods. In India, the key to a disruptive transformation lies in five sunrise areas of growth.
Firstly, the future lies in mobility that will be shared, connected and electric. Mobility is causing the biggest disruption of today. USA already has over 900 cars per 1000 persons while Europe has over 800. In contrast, India has only around 20 cars per thousand people. This presents a unique opportunity–our low share of vehicles per capita can be turned into a huge advantage by switching to an affordable, accessible and clean mobility ecosystem.
The average price of a lithium battery that was over US $1000 in 2010 has fallen to a mere US $137 per kilowatt-hour and will come down to less than $100 in next three years. Such steeply falling lithium-ion battery pack prices have made high-mileage electric service vehicles cost competitive. To support the EV segment, the government has already brought about numerous interventions, including a lower GST structure, tax deduction on interest for loans, and has supported procurement through the FAME II scheme. Two wheelers constitute over 70% of India’s total vehicle population. In the 2W and 3W EV ecosystem, India has a massive opportunity to become the lowest cost global manufacturer of electric two wheelers and three wheelers.
For long distance transportation, we need to focus on Green Hydrogen, which is increasingly being viewed as the next-generation energy carrier. New age technologies such as polymer membrane based electrolysers and advanced fuel cells such as solid-oxide fuel cells are pushing the envelope of the hydrogen economy. India has achieved immense success in enhancing contribution from renewable energy and reducing the solar prices to as low as Rs 1.99/kWh ($2.7 cents). With these prices green power to produce green hydrogen is the future.
Secondly, we must focus on Advance Cell Chemistries. A recent study by NITI Aayog and Rocky Mountain Institute concluded that India’s market for EV batteries alone could be as much as $300 billion till 2030. With innovations in solid-state batteries reaching commercial promise, new age Lithium solid state batteries are challenging the hegemony of traditional liquid electrolyte based batteries. The government has provided a boost to the segment by announcing support through the production linked incentive scheme. There are disruptions which look beyond lithium such as sodium-ion, silicon based and zinc based batteries. India should take the lead in supporting the manufacturing and scale up of these new age chemistries which will advance battery storage.
The third area for rapid transformation is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Today, eight out of the top ten companies are tech and digital companies and the fastest growing jobs globally are those of artificial intelligence specialists and data scientists. An Accenture report “Rewire for Growth” forecasts that AI has the potential to boost India’s annual growth by 1.3 percent points by 2035. This amounts to an addition of $957 billion or 15 percent of gross GVA by 2035.
India provides the size, scale and diversity of data that can fuel current generation AI algorithms using deep learning. Due to its mobile first usage, India has a unique digital footprint with one of the lowest data costs in the world and over 650 million internet users, one being added every 3 seconds.
We now need to move from being data rich to data intelligent by making available clean, structured and annotated data and work with the best AI researchers to find solutions to tuberculosis, cancer and enhanced agricultural productivity. An AI enabling policy environment supplemented by young, data hungry entrepreneurs and product managers is crucial to evolve as a global technology leader. We need to reorient our academic institutions into centers of excellence producing world class talent for data science, UI/UX design and AI scientists.
The fourth key area of transformation is the 5th generation mobile network technology which will radically transform the world of communication, mobile technologies and flow of data. 5G will make a paradigm shift, moving beyond the traditional cellular ecosystem to interconnect people, control devices and objects, and machines and ensure faster and better communications.
It is going to be a backbone for Industrial Revolution 4.0, AI, Blockchain and all the emerging technologies. India was substantially late in exploring 2G, 3G and 4G technologies. 5G will bring new capabilities that will create opportunities for people, businesses and society – the user experienced data rate will see a 10X jump, the spectrum efficiency will be 3X higher, the latency in milliseconds 10 times better and will connect 10 lakh devices for Km2 as compared to a mere 1 lakh in 4G.
It will drive internet of things technology carrying huge amounts of data and enable a smarter and a more connected world. If big data is the new oil in the digital era, then 5G is the set of pipes that will deliver it. Due to massive density across devices and connectivity across sectors, security will be a major concern. License conditions for 5G in India should therefore ensure that Indian companies get access to background IPR from global players on FRANDS terms. It is imperative that we create our own end-to-end 5G ecosystem so that we can address our critical security concerns.
The fifth key area is Genomics. Genomics aims to understand the structure of the genome including the mapping genes and sequencing the DNA. Recent findings in our genomic history and the sharply declining costs of genetic testing and analysis can transform the way public health is delivered in India. We need to set in motion a virtuous cycle of private investment in genetic testing, analysis counseling and therapy.
Last year, the government launched the IndiGen project, under which the full genomes of over 1,000 individuals are sequenced, and the data handed over to the individuals on a smart card. A national genomics platform is necessary to zero in on the major risk factors that individuals face. This can sharply help reduce the incidence of many diseases. The more genomes there are on the platform, the more useful it will be for finding solutions to diseases.
India has already unleashed bold and transformational reforms which will bolster our efforts in becoming a global champion and the manufacturing hub of the world. The production linked incentive schemes, reforms in labour laws, GST, corporate tax rationalization and an overall ease in doing business will give a fillip to India’s growth. India must seize the opportunity in sunrise areas of growth – this would require size, scale, speed of action and a focus on technological disruption. India’s ability to lead and globally drive these sunrise sectors of growth holds the key to our sustained growth, advancement and job creation.