Near Thimmannapalem, a remote village in Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh where O D Naidu spent most of his childhood, the sun gods determined the working hours. His off-grid house, built close to the farm where his father worked, did not have access to electricity till the early 2000s. Even at the government hostel in Chodavaram where he finished his schooling, the nights were usually spent in the dark due to power outages.
It wasn’t until he came across a local article about IITs and engineering courses that Naidu realised he might have a chance to change the situation. “IIT was a dream at that time. So I aimed low,” says Naidu. He joined Andhra polytechnic and pursued electrical engineering. In 2002, he got into JNTU in Hyderabad.
Having studied in his mother tongue all his life, Naidu found it difficult to adjust to English-medium lectures in college. “I bought a huge dictionary,” he quips. “I wrote down meanings, made notes, and worked extra hard every single day.”
As his education started to seem like a burden on his parents, Naidu decided to take up a part time job at a power distribution firm. This turned out to be a blessing – he got hands-on training, cementing his passion and prompting him to pursue higher studies. This time, he aimed high, and got into IIT Kharagpur with full scholarship. “I was a little hesitant at first, because I had landed a few job offers as well,” says Naidu. “But my mother encouraged me to pursue my dreams without worrying about money.”
In 2009, he joined ABB’s R&D facility where he worked on power system automation and monitoring projects. Soon, he shifted his focus to research and started out as one of the first few research scientists at the firm’s Bengaluru centre. Today, as the first R&D senior principal engineer at Hitachi ABB Power Grids in India – a joint venture between Hitachi and ABB – he leads the power systems research team in the global grid automation business unit. One of his most significant contributions is the development of a method to detect and clear faults at about twice the speed offered by traditional protection schemes, significantly improving power grid stability.
Naidu, who is also pursuing PhD at IIT Kharagpur, aims to help electrify remote villages, affordably and sustainably. He remembers the day his house got an electricity connection. “It was a joyous moment for all of us, particularly for my parents. I had bought them a television unit. We no longer had to travel over a kilometre to feel connected to the world,” he says.