Jun 22, 2024

Shruti Deorah

Shruti Mahajan Deorah is the Director at India Energy & Climate Center (IECC) at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy – leveraging clean energy technology and policy expertise to catalyze rapid transformation of energy systems in close collaboration with Indian policymakers and business leaders. She is an alum of UC Berkeley and IIT Bombay.

Episode Highlights

  • 00:00 – Introduction to Shruti Deorah’s background and roles as a mother, partner, and sustainable development advocate.
  • 03:15 – Insights on how Shruti Deorah’s upbringing in diverse environments influences her perspective on serving others, with a focus on environmentally sustainable policies.
  • 06:30 – Discussion on the India Energy and Climate Center at UC Berkeley and its mission to promote sustainable growth through technology-informed policies.
  • 09:45 – Emphasis on the importance of achieving zero carbon emissions and India’s potential as a clean technology leader in partnership with the US.
  • 12:20 – Challenges faced in transitioning to renewable energy sources and the significance of engaging policymakers in this process.
  • 15:00 – Urgency of addressing climate impacts and the role of individuals in advocating for sustainable practices.
  • 18:10 – Insights shared by Shruti Deorah on personal de-stressing methods and life lessons, including sustainability, inner joy, impermanence, and gratitude.
  • 20:30 – Closing remarks summarizing the key takeaways from the discussion on sustainable development, climate action, and personal growth.

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

[00:00:02 – 00:00:11] Nitin Bajaj

Hey, everyone. Welcome to the industry show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj. And joining me today is Shruti Deorah. Shruti, welcome on the show.

[00:00:11 – 00:00:16] Shruti Deorah

Thank you so much, Nitin, for having me, here. It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

[00:00:17 – 00:00:23] Nitin Bajaj

Oh, pleasure is all ours. So let’s start with getting to know Shruti. Tell us a little bit about you.

[00:00:24 – 00:04:13] Shruti Deorah

Yeah. Sure. I think all of us wear many different hats in our lives, and we are really a sum total of our experiences. So let me talk about my 3, you know, primary roles that I see as of today and three experiences or themes that have shaped me over the years. So I think my first role is that of a mom to my 2 little monkeys, 11 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. And they keep me on my toes, and I love it. And secondly, I’m deaf I’m a proud partner and spouse to my husband who’s an entrepreneur, investor, and author. His name is Kasia. And we met way back at IIT Bombay. And I I would say as an individual, I’m trying to play, you know, a small part in making this world a better place. So that’s where I come from. And in terms of what has shaped me, I think my childhood in a middle class family growing up in Delhi with very limited means, but, you know, the emphasis on excellence in education Deorah should I say learning, my dad always encouraged me to not be shy and ask the questions. You know? And I think that I have carried that forward in my life, always be, you know, having that critical thinking. And, and then secondly, I would say, what I pride myself in is adapting, assimilating, and thriving in very different environments. So my first big move was from, you know, my leaving my protected, family environment And then came to the US as a young adult to work here. And then came to the US as a young adult to work here. And then over the years, I moved from the corporate world to the nonprofit world, to the government world now to a research setting. And over the last 20 years, my husband and I, we have split time between India and US pretty much half and half. And I think all this change, while uncomfortable, has basically helped me, you know, or forced me rather to focus on, you know, looking at the pros or the positives of any setting or any place and really enjoying that while taking the cons and the downsides in my stride. So that I give credit to my husband to make us move multiple times between India and US. And then I would say the 3rd and a more important one would be, you know, the inspiration to serve, came when I was in high school and, with, you know, starry eyed, you know, idealism. I understood what the United Nations does, for example, or, really read a lot about, the motivation and the impact the IS officers have in India. And much later, of course, I understood that, you know, the selfless service my mom gave to the extended family and the local community. And I think I went on to the corporate world for financial security reasons, but then the calling to do something about the hard issues that, you know, that are facing India and our society, you know, that came back. And when I started thinking about these issues, I kind of explored and understood the nexus between energy access and energy consumption on one side, development and climate change. And that’s where I landed, and environmentally sustainable development is kind of my passion and within that, the role of policy. So that’s where they landed.

[00:04:15 – 00:05:29] Nitin Bajaj

Fascinating journey. And, you know, one thing I can relate to a lot of those parts having grown up in Bombay myself, having we just talked about this briefly, having had a small stint in Delhi. And then, of course, moving here later in life to start from essentially scratch and building those relationships. And I think one thing that is well known within the entrepreneurial community is the ability to adapt, to change, to environments, to people around you. And that’s what makes us successful in not being clinging on to something when things are good or when things are Bajaj, not not getting hooked on to one or the other. So I’m glad that you had that foundation of change and adaptability all along, and you make this seem so easy. So and and I’m sure that that’s what made you strive as you went from city to city to country to through your transitions, through the corporate, nonprofit, and, government. Very different cultures, very different environments.

[00:05:29 – 00:05:35] Shruti Deorah

Yeah. And very different learnings. And that’s, I feel like, the part I would like to focus on. Yeah.

[00:05:35 – 00:06:01] Nitin Bajaj

Yeah. Now you started to talk about a little bit of the why. What I would love for you to do and share with us is what is the India Energy Climate Center India? Tell us a little more about why you started this and, what is the mission and the vision behind it?

[00:06:01 – 00:08:45] Shruti Deorah

Mhmm. Yeah. Absolutely. So, actually, this is a center in the energy and climate center. We formally established it summer of last year, so we are pretty new. Not hit the 1 year mark just yet. This is at the public policy school at UC Berkeley. And our mission is to basically empower sustainable economic growth for India and the global south. And we do that through technology informed policy, through capacity building, through US India dialogue, and through south to south collaboration. And I think in terms of its genesis, you know, climate change is a very tech heavy space, you know, to take the world from where it is today to almost zero carbon emissions by mid century. It’s a huge technology transformation that we are talking about. And this technology is moving so fast that, you know, policymakers, what we realize, have to play a lot of catch up, and there’s a lot of vested interests and, you know, money lobbying going on. And what we have as you know, what we strive to be is that neutral strategic partner, who can take a systemic approach to this energy transition for India and, you know, include and keeping in mind India’s domestic interest of energy security, of industrial competitiveness, of environmental impacts, of livelihoods. And so that’s kind of the genesis, of the center. And why we are doing this now is because India’s development is actually inextricably linked to climate change. Mhmm. Like, really. Because on one hand, even with very little historical contribution to emissions, India, will face maximum damages due to climate change. You know? You think about millions of people living along the coast, downstream from Himalayan glaciers, depending on agriculture. So on one hand, India stands to suffer so much. On the other hand, we have 10,000,000 plus youth who are coming into our workforce every year. And you’re not gonna be able to absorb them all into services industry. You need large scale manufacturing. And as the developed world shifts to a clean energy based economy, India must seize this opportunity to become a manufacturing leader in cleantech. And India is now the fastest growing major economy in the world. So the decisions that India makes in terms of energy assets today are going to stay you know, have consequences for the next 3 decades. And so US and India being such natural and so US and India being such natural partners in this journey being the world’s largest democracies and whatnot, we’ve I felt strongly that, you know, the time is to act now and we want to strive to meet the moment.

[00:08:54 – 00:09:24] Nitin Bajaj

Those are fascinating and huge numbers. And as you rightly said, the decisions that are made today and in the next few years are gonna stay with us and we’re gonna see the impact of that. I wanna bring this into perspective. You’re not even a year into this journey, but if you can help share the through the vision, through what’s on the cards as of right now. The sense of the impact the center is likely to bring on.

[00:09:24 – 00:11:45] Shruti Deorah

Mhmm. Yeah. And I think, let me clarify. So the center brings I mean, we are a small team. So we are a team of about 10 people and a few affiliated faculty at UC Berkeley. But the people have been in this space and working for a combined experience of many decades. So even though the center is new, the people have been several of them have been at in the Berkeley ecosystem between Berkeley Lab and the university, and I’ve been here 5 plus years, and then we have new people joining us. So this team, even though small, has had a really outsized impact. Actually, let me talk about a couple of examples. One, this team’s research is the premise for US government’s clean energy goals. So, you know, the US government’s, Biden government’s target of clean, power grid, 100% clean power grid by 2035 is based on my colleague’s research. Similarly, US government’s, goal of 50% carbon emission reduction by 2030. And several other goals, you know, in the context of California, several other aspects of the inflation reduction act all came from this team’s research. And on India’s front, we have been engaged with the Indian government for, again, over a decade, and I in fact, myself and one of my other colleagues actually worked in the government as well. But in terms of impact, India’s current clean energy targets, renewable energy goals of 450 to 500 gigawatts of Mhmm. Solar and wind and, you know, other renewable capacity by 2030 was informed by our research. Similarly, the, you know, the target that India announced in terms of an energy storage for 2030. Energy storage obligation came from our research. And that basically spawns, you know, an investment and a market creation of 100 of 1,000,000,000 of dollars. So I think in terms of impact, there has already been, you know, pretty sizable impact of the people involved, in this center. And, we are pretty, grateful for, you know, the deep connections we have with the government and the, you know, and the receptivity that we see at really the highest levels because of our rigorous and neutral approach to this problem.

[00:11:45 – 00:12:19] Nitin Bajaj

Is it fair to say that, you know, you were you and the team were already working in this space, but you saw the need to have a focus around this because of what’s to come with all of the different things you mentioned. Right? India’s growth, where it’s at, the demographic, and the impact it’s it’s going to create. So it’s not like a bunch of people got together and started something. You guys were already doing the work. And now you’ve said, let’s focus on this so we can have continue to have a sizable impact on our future.

[00:12:20 – 00:13:21] Shruti Deorah

Absolutely. And I just want to add one small point. I think what I wanted to do was also, you know, expand our policy outreach and engagement. Again, there’s a lot of great research that the team was doing, but we did not have the people to engage systematically with more policy makers. And I also felt that the, you know, the Indian diaspora here, people who understand the linkages between climate and India’s development and the outsized impact India has as a, you know, Deorah facto leader of the global south, and that it is poised to become the 2nd largest emitter after China by mid century. Mhmm. So people understand that if they were to think about that, where is the center of excellence where we could support, where we could engage? You know, we are sitting here in California, which is a clean energy leader. We such deep linkages between the two countries. So I thought let’s create this platform really to, so that the sum can be, you know, bigger than its spots.

[00:13:22 – 00:14:10] Nitin Bajaj

Love that. And, again, thank you for doing this. It’s extremely important. People may not see it because we tend to have this notion of out of sight, out of mind. I can close my eyes and and wish things away, which obviously does not happen. So really important work. You’ve been doing it for many, many years. Thank you to you and your team for setting that focus and bringing this to the fore. As we talk about the impact and and the focus here, I’d love for you to share the one big challenge you’re facing as the Deorah facto experts in this space, you know, space. There is a lot of moving parts, a lot of political will power that, I’m sure you have to work around. What’s the one big thing you would like to call out?

[00:14:10 – 00:16:59] Shruti Deorah

Mhmm. Yeah. I think specifically to the center, I’ll talk about an India specific challenge. I mean, notwithstanding the bigger challenge everybody is facing where we are poised to quadruple our oil production as a world by 2030, which is let’s not go there. But in the Indian context, I think, the big challenge is really that India’s energy demand is growing really fast. You know, just in terms of electricity consumption, it’s 7 to 8% per year. It’s just really fast. And they need to scale up, the, you know, their resources to meet all this demand. You know, blackouts are not required, feasible, or, you know, allowed anymore. So so what’s happening is that even though government of India is doing a lot, and I say I would say they are doing a lot to deploy renewable energy capacity such as based on solar and wind, there are real on ground implementation challenges. And that’s the challenge that we are trying to address. That if India does not deploy this clean energy capacity fast enough, it will have no choice but to build more coal. Right? So but once that you build a coal plant, it lasts you for 30 years. They’re not good. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And, you know, everybody knows what happens in China over the last 2 decades. They have built so much coal capacity. Right? So I think and the challenge is really that the whole system was designed for coal, for a coal heavy grid. And we have to really shift the whole process, the whole system, the whole mindset to a renewables heavy kind of grid. And that’s just in the power sector. Similarly, in India’s industrial sector, there’s a huge expansion of steel capacity that’s going to happen. And if all of that is coal based, then it gets locked in. Right? So these are the challenges we are trying to address to make sure that the investment decisions today, you know, and are in favor of clean energy, but also addressing real on ground challenges at the state level or at the central level, you know, that are real, you know, and that are basically slowing down the space. So that’s 1. And in the just a quick a more mundane challenge, I would say, is fundraising. Right? Because I’m an accidental fundraiser. It’s just, I feel strongly that we have really an aggregation of some of the brightest minds in the world who understand this transformation and, you know, clean energy transition policy and technology issues very Deorah. But we really are running out of time. This decade is critical, and we would like to expand our impact and our footprint on this work.

[00:17:00 – 00:17:59] Nitin Bajaj

You actually stole my words because I was gonna say, you know, essentially trying to get people to think differently can be extremely challenging. The amount of time and effort and the research that you need to show as to why they should make a different decision than the one they’ve been making for the last 10, 20, 30 years can be extremely challenging. Nobody likes change. Mhmm. And then on the other end, you mentioned what I would translate as the last mile connectivity issues, the on the ground implementation. Again, you have to train an entire workforce on doing something of way which has never been done before or is alien to them. So that would take a lot of resources. So yeah. And as you said, you have the best minds that have already shaped policy for a number of decades. And now it’s time for us to focus on helping India make the right choices and not just make the choices, but also implement them.

[00:17:59 – 00:18:24] Shruti Deorah

Yes. And and that becomes like a model of a new model of development because Yes. Let’s remind let’s remember the world has never seen a model of development that was not based on fossil fuels. Right? So India has to literally invent a new way of development and do it for rest of the developing world, you know, because India has the resources and the, you know, and the right minds that can actually make it happen.

[00:18:24 – 00:18:27] Nitin Bajaj

Yeah. Big responsibility, but

[00:18:28 – 00:18:28] Shruti Deorah

Okay. The

[00:18:28 – 00:18:30] Nitin Bajaj

best shoulders to carry them.

[00:18:30 – 00:18:32] Shruti Deorah

Well, thank you. No. It’s a whole ecosystem.

[00:18:33 – 00:18:45] Nitin Bajaj

Now as we talk about challenges, I would love to focus on opportunities because that’s where our future is. What’s the most exciting one? Mhmm.

[00:18:45 – 00:20:27] Shruti Deorah

Yeah. I think I already maybe touched upon it. One is that I one is that even though previously we were engaged at the central government level in India, now we have the capacity and the bandwidth as we expand to engage at state level because a lot of decisions were act are actually made at the state level. And a lot of barriers, you know, deployment barriers also exist at the state level. And we see some solutions, and we are able to offer those while working closely with a few states. And it’s not just on the, you know, deploying the solar and wind, but also looking at, as I said, you know, let’s say green hydrogen and green steel and, electric mobility. And we do have a lot to offer, and it’s really exciting that now we are able to bring it to the states. So that’s one. And the another quick one I would say is that, we’re working we’re just starting to collaborate with a production house in the US to create a short form documentary, on, climate perspectives from the global south. So if you sit here and if you have been following the climate discourse, you would notice that sometimes the media narratives can be too simplistic. Right? The conversation is almost kind of controlled by the western media, and they don’t really understand what are the real, you know, challenges that a developing country like India is facing. So I feel strongly that we need a little bit more nuance to this conversation. And that’s our objective, with, this project, and we are fundraising for this documentary now. But whenever that happens, and I hope that happens, I feel it will be a big addition to the, conversation here.

[00:20:27 – 00:20:53] Nitin Bajaj

That’s such a huge thing. Right? That nuance of what are those challenges, whether it’s a developed economy versus a developing one Deorah just even the cultural norms and why people do what they do that adds into the climate change or or any of these implementation challenges is very important.

[00:20:53 – 00:21:24] Shruti Deorah

Yeah. I mean and one story I just remembered, which I would like to share is that, you know, when sometimes here, I have to tell them that in India, there are no climate deniers. Yes. Because guess what? They’re already facing impacts of climate change. Somebody told me that they went and met some farmers in drought prone Maharashtra, and they said, don’t tell us climate change is happening. We can see it.

Can you help us? Right? So I think that’s the difference. You know? India does not have the Indians don’t have the luxury to deny climate change.

[00:21:25 – 00:21:49] Nitin Bajaj

Yeah. And we don’t have the unlimited resources there. With the density we have, when something happens, the impact is real. It’s immediate. You don’t have that luxury of, oh, let’s divert resources here because we have excess on this side. Mhmm. That’s so true. Yeah. Now as we talk about the future I’m super excited about this documentary, by the way. So, you know

[00:21:49 – 00:21:52] Shruti Deorah

Well, we haven’t started yet. We are still fun fixing.

[00:21:52 – 00:22:00] Nitin Bajaj

Yeah. And, you know, we have to make it real. Right? Like, that excitement has to exist. So I I wanna make it come true. So

[00:22:01 – 00:22:20] Shruti Deorah

Yes. I think it’s a big gap. And I think, you know, the friction that you see between India and rest of the kind of, like, US EU block when climate negotiations happen, I think that’s where we need to work on because everybody has to work together in this.

[00:22:20 – 00:22:22] Nitin Bajaj

True. Yeah. This is our planet.

[00:22:22 – 00:22:24] Shruti Deorah

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:22:24 – 00:22:53] Nitin Bajaj

Now as we look at the bright future and the opportunities, I wanna pause, take a look in the rearview mirror. Your personal and professional, life, and ask you to share 2 moments. 1 where things did not work out as you had expected. There was failure, lessons that came out of it, and another one where things blew your expectations and became a success beyond what you had imagined.

[00:22:53 – 00:25:46] Shruti Deorah

Mhmm. Yeah. Yeah. I think well, there are so many failures, but, well, that’s a life well lived, I would say. But the one I would like to share in this context is when way back in 2008, 2009, I was working with Clinton Climate Initiative in India, and that was my first time trying to do public private partnership, thinking about climate change and, you know, what are the solutions that can be implemented. And we were talking to a few cities in India, you know, Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, about hybrid electric buses. Okay? I mean, of course, hybrid electric cars were here in the US. I was driving one in the US in 2005, but, you know, hybrid electric buses at that time were expensive. But on paper, they made a lot of sense because you would recover the initial investment, you know, in x years or something. Right? And they would reduce your emissions, your air pollution. So So it made a lot of sense, and we were trying to sell this concept. And every time I went to talk to a local, you know, the city bus corp, you know, agency, they said that we don’t, you know, our city needs so many 1,000 buses. We don’t even have money to buy those buses. And you are saying, I should buy this one bus instead of 3 buses because, you know, you think climate change is important. And, you know, that really helped me understand. And this is early on. Right? Like, really helped me understand that you cannot bring solutions from the west to the developing world. They do not apply. The context is so different. And that is why in the India Energy and Climate Center, we are very, very cautious and conscious of this. You know? Every solution we propose is for that country’s context and for India’s, you know, political and, policy context and market context. So that’s kind of one, I would say. And then in terms of success, I would say one recent success is that we were able to, you know, support the Indian government and really understand and really pushing the envelope of what’s possible with clean energy, you know, in the 2030 time frame that actually India can meet its growing energy demand with clean energy cost effectively. And then one personal, contribution that was that we were supporting a lot on what would be the policy and regulatory design to get there, to get to these, 2030 goals. And that has been, you know, taken and acknowledged by government of India that, you know, they have taken our recommendations and working on it. And that would really, you know, help states change their perspective of, you know, rather than resisting clean energy because it’s hard to manage, they’re able to probably see it in a way that clean energy can be the, you know, the main actor, you know, in meeting the, demand instead of, like, playing a supporting role.

[00:25:46 – 00:26:04] Nitin Bajaj

Well, congratulations and thank you. Because, again, I know it’s not easy to change those minds. Even when there is credibility, there is always vested interest and many, as they say, irons in the fire that may prevent them from making the right choices. So thank you.

[00:26:05 – 00:26:16] Shruti Deorah

Yeah. Thank you.

I mean, I think we want to continue the work, continue supporting the, you know, the policymakers to, take these key decisions, and that’s kind of our role. Yeah.

[00:26:16 – 00:26:29] Nitin Bajaj

That’s amazing. Now working with politicians in the US and India, change makers, state level bureaucrats, how do you de stress? What do you do for fun?

[00:26:30 – 00:27:03] Shruti Deorah

Yes. I mean, I think, right now with, you know, the kids where they are, I think, just spending time with kids and family. And as a family, we really love to explore and travel and hike around. And so that’s kind of our you know, the main way. Then I would say as an individual, I like music and dancing and yoga. And so, yeah, those are some of those some of few ways, we have fun. Yeah.

[00:27:04 – 00:27:07] Nitin Bajaj

  1. Now on to my favorite part of the show.

[00:27:08 – 00:27:08] Shruti Deorah

We

[00:27:08 – 00:27:13] Nitin Bajaj

have just the one line life lessons. Would love for you to share your life lessons with us.

[00:27:15 – 00:30:06] Shruti Deorah

Yeah. I think that’s a great question, and I had to write a few down because, Yeah. I think there have been of course, you know, we find inspiration from lots of leaders we hear or read about or, you know, something that connects with us. So I think I would like to share one. You can say an inspiring quote, but also a lesson, which is what Gandhi ji said that the earth can provide enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed. And that’s really something we have to remind ourselves. At least I remind myself very often because an you know, unconstrained, capitalism or growth is going to have, you know, without including the environmental cost is kind of the main reason for where we are today. And then a few other life lessons are I think one is just chase your inner joy. So wherever your heart feels connected, pursue that, I would say. That’s the recipe. Then another, lesson that’s from Bhagavad Gita that I really hold, close to my heart is, that you’re you have a right to your actions, but not entitled to or don’t be attached to the fruits of your actions. You know, the original Sanskrit word, you know, line for it. And another one I would say is by, you know, Sri S.N. Goenka, who is the person who brought Vipassana back to India. Vipassana is a meditation technique, and he says that, everything in the field of mind and matter is impermanent, and this impermanence is permanent. So just reminding ourselves that everything is impermanent. I think that that is, really key. And then last but not the least, I would say, one another life lesson is that life is empty and meaningless. And it’s really and I don’t mean it in a negative way. I just mean it in a way that life is an empty canvas, and you can add whatever meaning that you like to it. So, I think you can add whatever colors you like. And I’m a person of colors, and I like to throw in a bunch of colors and end up with a colorful bouquet in the end. So I’m grateful for, you know, my journey and, you know, my lessons and blessings. So those are a few life lessons.

[00:30:07 – 00:30:16] Nitin Bajaj

Shruti, thank you so much. And just to reflect on the last one, I see a lot of color. So it’s in the genes. You’re passing it on. That’s a

[00:30:16 – 00:30:21] Shruti Deorah

good thing. Yeah. That’s just a collage of artwork of my kids that, it’s in my office. So

[00:30:22 – 00:30:25] Nitin Bajaj

Yeah. Well, thank you again for making the time to

[00:30:25 – 00:30:26] Shruti Deorah

Thank you so much. Show

[00:30:27 – 00:30:43] Nitin Bajaj

sharing your journey, your story, and your life lessons with us. We really appreciate it. Congratulations again on the journey so far. Please keep doing what you do. Keep us in a safe environment for years to come. We really appreciate it.

[00:30:43 – 00:30:50] Shruti Deorah

Thank you so much for having me and giving me this opportunity to talk about my life and my story. Thanks, Nitin. It was a pleasure.

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