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Meet Future Climate Leader: Palak Jauhari

September 18, 2023

· 5 min read
The Elemental Team

A high school research project on natural cosmetics got 2023 EDICT Intern Palak Jauhari interested in ways to decarbonize industrial processes. Now, she’s hooked on solar.

Growing up in Oman, where her family lives, Palak Jauhari didn’t have much exposure to climate studies, outside of hearing the term “sustainability” tossed around. Her interest in climate work began in earnest in 12th grade, when she moved to upstate New York to attend boarding school and pursued a research project focused on natural cosmetics. That’s when something clicked.

“I started to understand all the ways we can make our most basic industrial processes eco-friendly,” Palak said. “From there I realized how sustainability manifests in different fields, especially in the energy sector. The drive to make industry better for the planet made me a fan of renewables and our quest toward de-fossilization and decarbonization.”

Though her interest in cosmetics faded, Palak had been bitten by the climate bug. When she was selected to participate in an engineering challenge as a freshman chemical engineering major at New York University, she focused on making solar energy economical. She held several clean energy internships throughout college and, this summer, became a project operations intern at national solar energy firm Sol Systems, by way of the Empowering Diverse Climate Talent (EDICT) Internship program.

Earlier this month, Palak started a master’s degree in earth and environmental engineering at Columbia University to further her interests in clean energy and storage technology, as well as circular economy. We caught up with Palak to learn more about how her summer went, and what keeps her going on her climate journey.

What was the most interesting thing you worked on at Sol Systems this summer?

I learned a variety of new concepts, the one I was most excited about was agrivoltaics, which are solar and agricultural co-location projects — think solar panels above a field of crops. For this project, I worked with agricultural stakeholders like landowners and nonprofits who work with farmers and agricultural scientists to understand the gaps in agrivoltaics research and practices so these projects can be truly symbiotic for each stakeholder. I also learned how to manage large-scale solar projects with multiple collaborators and unique needs. Sol’s focus on impact-based work encouraged me to look at technical problems from a humanistic point of view.

It’s clear you’re passionate about solar — why do you think solar energy is one of our most powerful defenses against climate change?

Solar is one of the more advanced existing solutions for rapid decarbonization (something more and more countries are hoping to accomplish by 2050). It is an abundant source, it accelerates electrification within cities by integrating into the grid and is fairly inexpensive compared to other clean energy sources.

What was one of your biggest takeaways from your time in EDICT?

Going into EDICT I wasn’t aware of how little I knew about the climate space. While my internship was specialized to the solar industry, the program gave me a glimpse of opportunities and the community outside the engineering and solar bubbles. I learned about policy and activism, clean transport, DEI, water and sustainable agriculture, and of course some great on-the-job skills!

The skills we are building now are highly sought after and are becoming ever more indispensable in the race to keep earth habitable.

Why do you think it’s important to incorporate equity and environmental justice into climate work?

Inequality is embedded in our systems. However, sustainability as a concept intrinsically incorporates growth for all and sustenance for all. Climate change will disproportionately harm poorer and more marginalized segments of society. Working toward sustainability without lifting up those communities is simply counterproductive. We haven’t done this before, on such a great scale, but a lot of work being done by the climate industry can help eradicate outdated ideas and organize a society where justice and equity are wholly present.

What would you say to young people considering careers in the climate sector?

This is the right time to join the climate sector! There’s a place for everyone to contribute and to learn different aspects of this emergent field. The skills we are building now are highly sought after and are becoming ever more indispensable in the race to keep earth habitable. Wonderful people, noble goals and a fantastic opportunity to bring new ideas to a highly disruptive sector — what’s not to like?

What keeps you hopeful or gives you momentum when it comes to climate action?

What truly keeps me going is the climate community! Whether they are in academia or industry, there are people out there solving very real problems our planet is facing right now. They are innovating solutions and fueling conversations that need to happen right this second, and I am so proud to be a part of such an inspiring group of people. This is just the beginning and I am excited about where the future takes me on my climate journey.

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Are you an aspiring climate professional like Palak or an employer interested in empowering diverse climate talent? Sign up to get involved with the EDICT Internship program.