Having been in operation for more than 100 years now, Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) is one of the largest energy generators and distributors for the city of Kolkata in West Bengal. Servicing more than three million customers in India’s third largest city, the company is under constant pressure to deliver consistent and reliable power to homes and businesses in the metropolitan area, while ensuring costs are kept to a minimum.
As Managing Director overseeing energy generation, and responsible for the company’s infrastructure and power supply, Rabi Chowdhury is circumspect about the magnitude of his responsibilities. “I can’t just look aimlessly for growth opportunities,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “It’s vital that I help maintain a high standard of service and prepare the business for the challenges it will face.”
Rabi’s career with CESC began almost as soon as he left university. Having graduated in 1982 from Jadavpur University with a degree in electrical engineering, he worked in various positions before taking up the role as Managing Director of Haldia Energy and Dhaliwal Infrastructure in 2015. Subsequently, he headed up the entire Thermal Generation Business of the RP Sanjiv Goenka Group from 2018.
Rabi is responsible for supply, capacity, cost, performance and safe practices at all the company’s thermal power plants. In that capacity, he worked tirelessly to focus resources where he believed it was most needed.
“When I was appointed in this role, the business had concluded that conventional power generation had a lot of challenges ahead. In part, this was because of shifting resources in India, but there were other issues, too, including stranded power plants that were of no use to anyone,” Rabi says. He felt it was time to lead the business with a new approach.
“I wanted CESC to adapt, or at least be capable of building plants in the right places. We are now strategising better, approaching challenges in a way that is consistent with CESC’s 120 years in the business.”
“We are now strategising better, approaching challenges in a way that is consistent with CESC’s 120 years in the business.”
Rabi has made digital technology his highest priority, saying that he “must have an agile workforce that embraces disruptive technologies”. Currently, seven units of CESC’s plants located in Budge Budge, Haldia and Dhariwal utilise digitised operations developed in collaboration with GE. Now, Rabi can monitor trends with analytics, which allow him to notice alarms in advance.
Introduced in the two years prior, CESC is looking to implement digitised operations in all its plants in the next 18 months. “We are interested in seeing where we can introduce digital technology so that operational excellence and efficiency can improve, as well as how we can be cost effective and cost concerned.”
It has formed part of Rabi’s broader approach of achieving a high standard of operational efficiency. He doesn’t compromise on this, because he believes that “operational efficiency is an absolute must for power plants”. It’s an important concern for any business, especially one as large as CESC, as it juggles the need to keep costs low while ensuring that power is supplied consistently.
“Operational excellence will address costs, and if I can make the plant reliable by working on availability, then that will give partners the confidence to be associated with us. That’s why efficiency is so important; it’s inseparable from the cost and reliability of our services.”
“Operational excellence will address costs, and if I can make the plant reliable by working on availability, then that will give partners the confidence to be associated with us.”
Rabi enthuses about the standard that CESC has achieved so far; he states the company averages around 99% availability for power, indicating a high standard of reliability, while touting the development of a megawatt plant with Haldia Energy that would improve on that number. And although he emphasises on the efficiency of the business under his direction, he attributes a lot of this success to the transparent and collaborative partnerships he maintains with clients and suppliers.
“Whenever I visit companies we supply power to, they’re happy with the availability, but we still confer with them so that we can anticipate any problems. After all, our relationship is mutually beneficial, so we need to accord that respect to each other.”
It’s through the cultivation of partnerships that CESC has been able to reflect on how it can achieve best practices. “It may be from a positional, commercial, safety, or corporate responsibility perspective, and not just operationally focused. As a business, we must serve people. If what we are doing isn’t working, we need to be willing to change. It’s an evolving process. That is, you see high reliability, efficiency and, to some extent, reduction in operational costs.”
“As a business, we must serve people. If what we are doing isn’t working, we need to be willing to change. It’s an evolving process.”
When it comes to these matters, Rabi’s always eager to seek broader input. “We’re constantly looking at various power plants in India to find out what policies are being introduced in these organisations. That way, we can make ourselves better.”
When pressed, Rabi is reluctant to liken CESC to partners or competitors. “I don’t want to compare this business to any other,” he says. “What we are looking for is operational excellence. That can be measured in concrete terms, like availability or power scheduling.
We are confident we have achieved excellence in that regard. We have focused on our service as well as our operating standards, such as plant load factors, reliability, auxiliary power consumption, and so on. We are considered one of the most reliable brands in India, and now we want to focus on our global standard.”
However, Rabi is cautious about CESC’s expansion plans. As a conventional, coal-fuelled power company, he’s aware that CESC will have to work with renewable energy. “If we have operational excellence, we can address these challenges. That way, the plants are ready to support the grids as and when required.
With renewables, we will see great fluctuation in usage and demand, so we will have to figure out how to remain efficient.” Furthermore, he’s also facing a variety of legal, regulatory and policy issues that make developing new plants a difficult proposition for the business to pursue presently.
“We are watching the energy sector, and if we see any profit arising from thermal power generation, we’ll decide if we should invest. Currently though, we are not seeing much opportunity for growth as we prepare instead for challenges on the horizon.”
For Rabi, the success of CESC will hinge on his employees being adept at and enthusiastic about a fluctuating, challenging work environment. “The only way this business can address challenges is if everyone is technologically savvy. Nobody should be resistant to change. They should be responsive to change, and they should respond quickly and focus on cost
and operational efficiency.”
In his view, it’s all a part of being prepared and taking nothing for granted. “You must keep your eyes and ears open, be agile, collect information, respond to situational change, and be ready to adjust. It’s important to stay optimistic but remain realistic.”