As a data and electrical engineer originally from India, Dr. Rubenka Bandyopadhyay has gained an understanding of the critical need for clean energy to power our world and increase energy access. A former member of NCSEA’s board, Dr. Bandyopadhyay shares her perspective on creating an inclusive energy transition.
Energy as a Piece of the Puzzle
Growing up in India, Dr. Bandyopadhyay saw how poverty impacted quality of life, especially in rural areas where many people could not afford electricity. For many, gaining access to electricity was transformational. For instance, a farmer with access to electric pumps could produce and store more food and improve their family’s quality of life. Beyond that, electricity is also a ladder for opportunity by enabling connection to the internet and all the benefits that entails. Seeing this need for greater access to electricity, Dr. Bandyopadhyay wanted to enter the energy field. Additionally, she had a love for building things, as she was constantly playing with items and intentionally breaking them apart as a child. Pursuing electrical engineering made perfect sense for her.
In the pursuit of providing greater access to electricity, Dr. Bandyopadhyay knew that this resource had to grow in a sustainable manner. She explained the need for electricity to be produced sustainably: “A large percentage of the total pollution in any country in the world comes from the electric power sector and the energy sector. Given the climate emergency, I think it's important for us to make sustainable choices that are equitable. Energy is almost always a piece of the puzzle.”
Finding her Electrical Pathway
Dr. Bandyopadhyay began her engineering journey by earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering. These academic pursuits also helped to shed light on the negative environmental impacts associated with some forms of electricity generation. As a result, she decided to pursue and earn a PhD at the Duke Nicholas School for the Environment. The program focused on energy system modeling and policy. Throughout the program she also interned with the United Nations. This experience helped her learn how policymakers think about critical issues, like energy, as well as the role of technology in policy. Further, Dr. Bandyopadhyay completed a postdoc focused on energy systems modeling at the US Environmental Protection Agency.
After her extensive education journey, Dr. Bandyopadhyay transitioned to roles working in the energy industry. She joined Advanced Energy in a role focused on energy systems and consulting. After that, she became especially interested in data when she worked at a company called Abt Associates. It led to her current position as a data engineer at the US Postal Service Office of Inspector General, where she is leveraging coding and cloud-based programming tools to work toward USPS OIG’s mission to ensure efficiency, accountability, and integrity in the U.S. Postal Service. In particular, Dr. Bandyopadhyay shared that she loved the move into the technology sector as it has allowed her to continue to learn new skills in coding and programming.
Gratitude for her First and Second Homes
Dr. Bandyopadhyay expressed that her experiences in India and North Carolina have been valuable to help her reach this point in her life and career.
She knows that growing up in an educated family in India was a significant advantage in her life. She shared that both her parents have advanced degrees. “Even if you’re not working at the same company or in the same field, having parents who went to graduate school makes it so much easier to grasp the idea of going to graduate school yourself,” she said.
She is doing her best to use her own advanced education to improve the energy world while advocating for others to have similar opportunities. “We should think about how to make educational and career opportunities available to everyone regardless of their circumstances and where they start in life,” she continued.
While Dr. Bandyopadhyay now lives in northern Virginia, North Carolina holds a special place in her heart. She said Durham is her second home since it is the first place she lived outside of India. She spent about 10 years in the state, and it is the place where she met her husband and close friends. Plus, she enjoyed being surrounded by diverse, young professionals in the Triangle. Plus, the Triangle provided a plethora of opportunities to engage with people in the renewable energy industry, such as attending events with Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy, better known as WRISE.
Envisioning an Equitable Energy Future
In our conversation, Dr. Bandyopadhyay emphasized the urgency of deploying clean energy. She said: “We’re cutting it really close to a point where we may no longer be able to have impact or prevent the effects of climate change. We need to come together as a planet rather than saying that it is an individual state or country’s responsibility to solve it.”
She further outlined the importance of involving everyone in the rapid transition to clean energy technologies, saying, “We need to find ways to engage everyone to understand the importance of clean sources of energy so that in an ideal future we run on sustainable and affordable sources of energy.”
The energy transition is not just about timing but also about equity. She said many underserved communities do not have access to solar, electric vehicles, or other clean energy technologies to reduce emissions and ultimately reduce their energy bills. Part of the challenge stems from an individual or families’ ability to even own a home or have a garage to reliably charge an electric vehicle.
Recognizing these inequities, Dr. Bandyopadhyay said we need proper planning to ensure everyone has access to sustainable technology. Plus, she said we need to be inclusive and transparent when building the workforce in the technology sector where there are fewer women. She added that there should be clear information about expectations with job applications and promotion expectations; otherwise, women may leave the workforce.
Further, Dr. Bandyopadhyay recognizes that networking is critical in the U.S. but that southeast Asian women are often taught to be quiet, making it difficult for them to enter a new culture when coming to the U.S. She recommended that universities provide trainings to help with networking and ultimately develop an inclusive clean energy workforce.
Despite her awareness of the urgent need to increase clean energy in equitable ways, Dr. Bandyopadhyay feels optimistic. She shared that she feels encouraged when she hears more people talking about climate change and clean energy. These conversations can encourage more people to enter the clean energy space, accelerating the benefits and quality of life improvements that new technologies can provide in North Carolina and around the world.
We are thankful for Dr. Rubenka Bandyopadhyay taking the time to talk with us about her journey in clean energy and for being a valued board member of NCSEA. Dr. Rubenka Bandyopadhyay contributed to this article in her personal capacity. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Postal Service, Office of Inspector General, or the United States Government. Learn more about Bandyopadhyay.