When vegetarian captains of industry in Chennai want to relish Chinese food, they usually opt for Golden Dragon restaurant at Taj Coromandel. So it is with NK Ranganath, the managing director of Grundfos Pumps India Private Ltd. We meet for lunch soon after his return from Thailand, where Grundfos has set up ultra-filtration water purification systems which are manufactured in the Indian factory. “We also supply to Indonesia,” he says as we are about to order food.
Grundfos, a Danish company, is one of the largest pump manufacturers in the world. It has been in the industry for over 60 years. Grundfos is a private company, with 85% of its shares held in a trust. The income from this trust goes towards reinvestment, R&D and environmental causes. The company truly believes in contributing to global sustainability by pioneering technologies that improve the quality of life of people and care for the planet. “We walk the talk. Ours is the first green-rated building in Chennai, second in the country. We have opted for recertification and have gone from gold to platinum rating,” says Ranganath.
Grundfos R&D centre in Denmark is the largest in the pump industry worldwide. “Our production technology, designs and materials are constantly examined and improved. It was Grundfos’s values which attracted me to the company,” says Ranganath, who is a pump industry veteran. He joined the company—which is a 100% subsidiary of the Danish principal—in 1998 and established it in India the same year. His focus has always been on water and energy conservation.
We settle down with stir-fried asparagus and assorted vegetarian dim sum as starters, followed by chilli-coriander lemon soup. “Grundfos wants to leave behind a world which is more energised for the future generation than what we have inherited. While we remain an ambitious company, our vision has always gone beyond business. We want to save water and save energy.” Grundfos is the largest seller of solar water-pumps in the country. In India, the company has persisted with solar pumps even before the concept became popular.
“This part of our journey began in 2009, when solar panels and pumps were very expensive. We started working in a few water-starved villages. Grundfos provides the most energy-efficient pumping solutions with the lowest life-cycle cost to its users. In India, thousands of villages do not have access to water. An off-grid, self-sustaining solar pumping solution is the quickest way to provide water to the millions.”
The Grundfos Foundation, Grundfos India and Sunlit Future of Auroville have together completed the first phase of an ambitious project to bring clean water to 100 villages. There are now 20,000 pumps operating in villages in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Grundfos delivered water to 12,400 people in 28 villages in these states. The initiative has helped the residents cut down their time spent on collecting clean water and focus on other productive activities. “We are now working in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Solar pumps are being installed in forest areas in tribal reserves.
People use tractors to deliver water in these places. The sound of the tractor scares away animals.
The cost of a solar pump is higher than conventional pumps. But the farmer needs to spend only 10-20% of the total amount, because the rest is available as subsidy from the government. There is no maintenance cost involved in solar pumps, which can be operated for 6-7 hours. “These installations changed the socio-economic conditions of the villages. Many women and girls in rural India have to carry up to 20 litres of water 2-3 times a day. When they did not have to pump water in these villages, girl children started going to schools. Women started making additional income by working in farms. Cows started yielding more milk. People no longer die from snake bites. There was all-around improvement.”
As we finish the starters, we decide to share pan-fried crispy vegetarian noodles and fresh vegetables in black pepper sauce. Ranganath tells me how these pumps work. “The solar-powered pumping systems with Grundfos’s SQFlex pumps ensure a stable water supply for each village. The SQFlex pump motor is constructed especially for energy sources with varying voltage, such as solar energy or wind power, to work in developing countries. These are extremely energy-efficient and long lasting.” Ranganath says that for these pumps to be a cost-effective in villages, the Centre and state governments and also the panchayats have to come together. Individual houses can make a contribution. Odisha is working out a package on these lines.
Ranganath then shares other efforts by Grundfos for providing clean water. The company has come out with an ultra-filtration water purification system to treat local water sources and make the water fit for human consumption. To collect water, people have to charge a smartcard with credit—which can be bought either physically or through a mobile wallet—insert it into the dispenser and pay for the water they need. “The first order is coming from Odisha.” Grundfos will be a serious player in emerging smart cities market. “We are launching a series of energy-efficient pumping solutions,” says Ranganath. “We can also install large flood-control stations.”
As we wait for date pancakes with chilled mango cream, I ask Ranganath where the company stands in the regular pump market. “Pumps of all sizes and shapes are manufactured in India. We are in high-end pumps. We don’t compromise on the quality of even a single component. Initially, we were 300% more expensive than similar pumps in the country. Gradually, the figure has dropped to 65%. We supply 55% to the industry, 35% to builders, of which 12% is installed for domestic use and 33% for industry. Our volumes are growing. Last year, we registered 12% growth.”
As we leave the restaurant, Ranganath tells me that Grundfos products are the most copied in the world. “Our technology to draw water from solar power hasn’t been copied yet!”