The Bering Strait, Nebraska, Iceland, Denmark, Poland, Italy… A small finger dances across a world map, making brief stops at each landmark. A young boy named Ravi, lying in his bed in the city of Coimbatore in Southern India, wonders about the world beyond the walls of his bedroom. One by one, he learns the capitals of these places at school. Who knows, he daydreams, maybe he will become a geographer or an airplane pilot and have the chance to visit these exotic places when he’s older. In the meantime, he plays with toy motorbikes and cars, fascinated by their inner workings.
“I was always eager to understand how things work. After completing my school education, I set my sights on becoming a mechanical engineer. That’s why I chose that career,” he fondly recalls. His friends and relatives also encouraged him to pursue studies in mechanics. In the end, mechanical engineering won out over geography, but somehow, his childhood dreams of globetrotting would still come true.
Ravikumar Chinnaraj now responds to this interview from his current post in the USA, where he works as a mechanical engineer in Ohio for ACCIONA Energía. He has been with the company since 2016, working on solar and wind farms. However, his interest in renewable energy goes back to the early 2000s.
Towering wind turbines and wild tigers
Ravi, as everyone knows him, belongs to one of the first generations of mechanical engineers in India who specialized in this field. “During my mechanical engineering studies, we delved into the renewable energy sector, learning about wind turbines and their workings. We even had hands-on training in wind turbine fields,” he recalls. Today, India is a major player in wind energy, ranked as the Fourth largest in the world. However, in 2000, when Ravi was studying, it was still an emerging technology. “The first time I saw a wind turbine, I was quite intimidated. The blades were so long, and it made a loud noise,” he reminisces with a chuckle.
“Transporting all the components up the mountains was a significant challenge,… we encountered tigers, bears, and other wildlife. It could be quite dangerous in those areas.”
Young Ravi completed his studies in 2005 and soon found work as a technician with a German company, where he learned the fundamentals of the field. “I handled routine maintenance and breakdown maintenance. After a few years, I wanted to take on new challenges, so I transitioned to construction sites.” It was time for him to embark on a wind farm safari in the open fields.
Some of these assignments were remarkable logistical feats, mainly when the wind turbines were installed high in the mountain ranges of Western Ghats India. “Transporting all the components up the mountains was a significant challenge,” he remarks. The steep mountains were only one of the obstacles. “We encountered tigers, bears, and other wildlife. It could be quite dangerous in those areas,” he acknowledges. Did he ever have to climb a wind turbine to escape a Bengal tiger? “No, no, it wasn’t that bad!” he responds, laughing.
The initial turbines he worked on were modest 600 KW machines, but his career evolved in tandem with the industry. By the early 2010s, he was installing 1.5 MW turbines. “When I joined ACCIONA as an assembly manager in 2016, the company brought the latest technology to India. With a 3 MW capacity, it was the largest in the country at that time.”
Until 2016, Ravi traveled to various wind farms in India while working with two German companies. During these years, he also became a father of two. However, he began to feel a sense of restlessness. “In my previous jobs, I found myself doing the same repetitive tasks. I felt there were no opportunities to explore and develop my skills,” he explains. It was then that a colleague told him about a job opening at ACCIONA, in the Energy business. “I heard it was one of the largest companies in Spain, with a positive work environment and a strong emphasis on training. So, I saw it as the best opportunity to challenge myself.”
“When I joined ACCIONA as an assembly manager in 2016, the company brought the latest technology to India. With a 3 MW capacity, it was the largest in the country at that time.”
As a father and a family man, he had an additional reason. “I also heard that the company offered a good work-life balance.” By that time, Ravi’s oldest son was already nine years old, and he wanted to spend more time with him.
Soon, Ravi was working with high-capacity wind turbines and concrete towers, a new experience for him in the sector. One of his initial tasks was the Bannur project, a 78 MW wind farm featuring twenty-six turbines. Any tigers in the mountains this time? “No, this time we were working in flat terrain!”
New challenges and old dreams
Ravi joined ACCIONA to prove his talent and take on new challenges. Following the Bannur project, the company upped the ante. “After a year, we didn’t have any other projects in India, so they sent me to Egypt for a solar project. It was an interesting transition because I moved into solar energy after working on wind projects, which provided a fantastic opportunity to explore another aspect of renewable energy.” And what better place to learn about solar power than in the Egyptian desert?
He would also advance professionally with a new role as an electromechanical supervisor. Learning about a new technology was just one aspect of the challenge. “The desert is a really harsh place. We would plan our work to start early at 5:00 in the morning and finish by 13:00 because it became too hot to continue.”
Following his experience in Egypt, Ravi ventured across the globe to embark on another solar project, this time in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The region Antofagasta, would host a 50 MW solar farm. Ravi is fluent in Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, and English. However, Chile presented a new linguistic challenge. “In Chile, people don’t speak English very well, so I had to deal with language barriers and tried to learn some Spanish.” And to prove his point, he adds, “Hablo un poco Español.”
“The desert is a really harsh place. We would plan our work to start early at 5:00 in the morning and finish by 13:00 because it became too hot to continue.”
“Every project is unique, so I learn different things. In Egypt and Chile, there are different cultures and different ways of working. The best part is adapting to new work environments; you learn a lot from that.” In Chile, he was responsible for “monitoring construction quality, ensuring that all work complied with ACCIONA’s plans and specifications, and meeting contract requirements while working with contractors.” Of course, he also had the opportunity to explore San Pedro de Atacama and savor local cuisine.
After returning to India for two years, he received his latest assignment – the Union Solar Project in Ohio. There, he works as a mechanical engineer, overseeing the construction of a 325 MW solar farm with solar trackers. “This transfer is also an opportunity for me to improve my English,” he emphasizes.
“Australia is still on my list, but you could say that ACCIONA has helped me fulfill my childhood dream of exploring the entire world.”
“Typically, we work on projects in a single location, but this one is a bit different – there are 16 different areas spanning 10 to 20 square kilometers. You need to move around a lot.” He has now traveled through Asia, Africa, Europe, and America thanks to his work. “Australia is still on my list, but you could say that ACCIONA has helped me fulfill my childhood dream of exploring the entire world.”
The most formidable challenge of them all
Ravi fondly remembers these years at ACCIONA but recalls a particularly challenging moment in 2020. While supporting the solar farm project in Chile, the world came to a standstill. A new and highly contagious virus was wreaking havoc in China. One country after another imposed strict lockdowns and closed their borders. Before he knew it, Chile followed suit, and he found himself stranded in the Atacama Desert.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was stuck in Chile for seven months, unable to return home and see my family. I stayed connected with them through Zoom and WhatsApp calls, but it was one of the most challenging moments in my career, not seeing my wife and children.”
Fortunately, apart from that experience, he has been able to return home regularly during his overseas projects. “I go back to India for vacation every four months and I get to spend two or three weeks with my family.”
In 2024, Ravi will return to India for a new project. “I just heard that we will have another project in India. As a team, we will share our experiences and what we have learned from other countries and implement it in our new project. The global experience I have gained over these years will allow me to contribute to a project in my own country and improve the renewable energy infrastructure in India.”
“The global experience I have gained over these years will allow me to contribute to a project in my own country and improve the renewable energy infrastructure in India.”
Friends and family, a strong foundation
Throughout his years of professional growth, Ravi has also built strong relationships with coworkers worldwide. “Most of my closest friends are from ACCIONA in Spain. I attended a training course in Madrid and also visited Pamplona. I think it’s because of the culture, but getting along with them is easy. My visit to Madrid was memorable, with all the museums and the new cuisine. You call them calamari, right? I loved those.” He conveys his point: breaded calamari ring sandwiches are a staple of Madrid’s cuisine.
Another moment he looks forward to is sharing Pongal festivities, a Tamil Nadu tradition, with his family and friends. Pongal marks the end of the harvest season in the region with a rice dish made in clay pots using fresh milk. “I enjoy offering moral support to my family and friends while savoring a meal with them.”
Ravi is also a passionate sports enthusiast. While he used to play cricket, he now prefers other sports. “Cycling and hiking are two of my favorite activities. I like spending time with friends, engaging in sports, and enjoying the outdoors.”
After nearly a decade with ACCIONA Energía, Ravi has gained valuable insights and confirms that his vision when he started in the renewable energy sector was accurate. “I can see the immense potential of renewable energy. It has a huge role to play in the world’s energy future. If you think long-term, it’s going to be the backbone of energy generation in the 21st century.”
Any advice for young engineers looking to impact the world positively? “At this company, you can receive a lot of training, continuously learn new things, and find motivation from experienced colleagues. You can grow and truly explore and develop your talent.”
“At this company, you can receive a lot of training, continuously learn new things, and find motivation from experienced colleagues. You can grow and truly explore and develop your talent.”
It’s time for Ravi to return to the Union Solar Project. “So far, we have completed almost 90% of our work. By the end of December 2023, we will finish all mechanical aid activities, and the solar farm will go live.” By then, Ravi will be able to return to India with his family and friends and prepare for the next challenge, as he has always done.
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