An interview with an alumnus, currently living in the United States, and working for SolarCity

By Vishnu Prashanth (B.E Production Engineering, 2015-2019)

As part of the alumni column, THE BRIDGE is in conversation with NIKITH RAJENDRAN (B.E. MECHANICAL 2006-2010), who is living the American Dream. Having studied at Harvard University, University of Stanford, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Mr. Nikith is currently Director of Fleet Operations, at SolarCity. He is a firm believer in the old adage to “shoot for the moon”. An excerpt of the interview follows.

Vishnu (V): TEAM BRIDGE congratulates you, belatedly, on your reception of the 2016 Fleet Safety award! Could you detail what ‘Fleet Management’ entails?

Receiving the 2016 Fleet Safety Award, earlier

Nikith (N): Fleet Management is a multifaceted discipline, encompassing key principles of business and asset management; analytics and resource planning; mechanical engineering, and an understanding of global industry, economics, health and safety, current legislation, and other pertinent areas. It refers to the management of commercial automotive, nautical and aeronautical fleets and involves operational functions ranging from vehicle financing, vehicle telematics (tracking and diagnostics), vehicle interior design & employee productivity, and health and safety management. It allows companies that rely on transportation to mitigate the risks associated with vehicle investment; improve efficiency and productivity; reduce overall transportation and personnel costs; and maintain 100% compliance with government legislation. Fleet Management has been the cornerstone for the introduction of new ideas and technologies into the automotive industry.

V: You have a stellar profile; what with stints at MIT and Stanford. What has your journey through such illustrious institutions taught you?

N: One must never stop learning. New technologies & ideas are introduced all the time and old technologies get outdated. If one must stay relevant in the industry, then learning must happen continuously. Also, never be afraid to think-out-of-the-box and experiment with new ideas. Never be afraid of failures.

V: What are your memories of life at PSG Tech? What do you cherish most?

N: PSG Tech was one of the most crucial periods in my life. At PSG, you are put among the cream of the cream of students from the entire state and in fact, the entire country. Everyone in your class harbours a lot of ambition and enterprise and is insanely good at something. That was my case too, and I was definitely motivated by that kind of a vibe. And that motivation is key in pushing one to achieve more.

V: The inevitable question, what are the prospects for Solar Energy? Not just for India, but for the whole world. Will it see higher adoption rates?

N: [The prospects are] Bright! Very bright, especially for India. Being a sun-drenched country, India has a lot of potential to harvest solar energy. In fact, India has made commendable progress in the last few years and is now the third largest market for solar installations in the world. In the last four years alone, the installed capacity has multiplied 8 times to 20GW. But if you look at the percentage of solar vs total, it is still meagre i.e. in the single digits. And that is why I think there is still a lot of potential for solar in India. By 2022, the Government of India wants to increase this to 100GW and that is a five-fold increase from today.

There will be higher adoption rates if we can remove a few roadblocks namely by (i) Improving access to Financing, (ii) Strengthening the electricity grid, and (iii) Easing the regulations.

V: SolarCity‘s concept of Solar Leasing seems very interesting. People would be comfortable paying instalments akin to rent. But will this be a feasible scheme for India’s fledgling solar industry?

N: As I was saying before, financing is one of the hurdles that is preventing solar from scaling. By introducing innovative financing models, it becomes more accessible to the common man and so the adoption rate will go up. And Leasing is one such financing model. It will be a feasible concept in India, if we can decrease the risk element for investors. That way, people with money would lend more readily to solar projects for the common man.

V: A much admired figure is Elon Musk. Could you tell us something about working in such (enviable) proximity to him?

N: Elon Musk leads from the front lines. He sleeps on the factory floor and works on the manufacturing lines whenever there is an ambitious production goal for the company. And only God knows how many hours he sleeps or if he sleeps at all. That kind of dedication and commitment is an inspiration to all!

V: On a related note, SolarCity played a massive role in setting up the Supercharging stations for Tesla’s vehicles. Is this the future of urban transport? What do you see as potential obstacles to this technology phasing out IC engines?

N: I personally strongly believe that at some point in the future all vehicles will be electric and autonomous. The primary obstacle [against electric vehicle adoption] is going to be building the charging infrastructure and making sure that there is enough electricity to cater to the demand.

V: To take a leaf out of Marcel Proust’s book, if not yourself, who would you be?

N: Either of my parents, for sure. Both my parents have very strong personalities and have come a long way despite a lot of obstacles. I wish I had that kind of strength and resolve.

V: What would be your advice to the soon-to-be PSG alumni?

N: It has never been a better time to be alive. The world is bubbling with opportunities and interesting problems like global climatic change for you to solve. India is on the cusp of a major transformation. The next 20 years are going to be very exciting both globally and nationally; so seize the opportunity! Carpe Diem!

V: To close things out, what would you change if given a chance? If you could meet your 10-year-old self today, what would you tell him? Alternatively, would your 10 y.o. self be happy with where and who you are today?

N: Buy Bitcoin (when it is $0.01)! (LOL, just kidding).

As to what would I tell my 10 y.o. self, for one, I will be asking myself to be more well-rounded. Be good at some sport and pick up some music skills. For another, I will be asking myself to be more patient. Rome was not built in a day.

I think my 10 y.o. self would be mostly happy with me today. A few things here and there, I wish, could have happened differently but yes, mostly happy.

THE BRIDGE would like to thank Mr. Nikith for his inspirational words.

Author’s Space

Vishnu Prashanth

A wannabe quizzer who is into football. A fan of P.G.Wodehouse, the Oxford comma, wordplay, and Radiohead.

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