ECE Perspectives: Sakshi Mishra, Forbes 30 Under 30

“My desire to be part of the solution for climate change problems, a keen interest in conducting research in the all-things-electrified domain, and fascination with the field of artificial intelligence –  these are the key drivers that led me to the path I’m on.”

Sakshi Mishra is a PhD student at UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering, a researcher with the Blockchain@UBC research cluster- and a new member of the 2022 Forbes 30 under 30.

Sakshi, who was acknowledged in the ‘Energy’ category, is working on the possibilities of blockchain in sustainable energy. Before joining Electrical and Computer Engineering, she spearheaded research into  energy decision-making and forecasting tools at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was a Grid Planning Engineer at American Electric Power (AEP), and was an advisor at GreenTech Alliance.  The Forbes award-winning research she’s now pursuing at ECE focuses on the use of peer-to-peer energy trading to coordinate energy distribution- a project that could transform how renewable energy is used by electric vehicles, buildings, and whole energy grids.

Sakshi joins us for an interview where she reflects on this award, discusses her research into new sustainable energy technologies, and shares the inspirations and experiences that led her to this milestone.

Congratulations! How do you feel about being named on the Forbes 30 under 30?

Thank you! I see it as an exciting ‘checkpoint’ in my journey – a reaffirmation that my efforts so far have been headed in the right direction. When the goal is to push the envelope of what’s possible in the realm of AI and energy nexus, Forbes 30 Under 30 is a good platform to highlight what’s been done and shed light on the tremendous potential that this technology holds for helping solve climate change problems.

Your work focuses on the interaction of AI, energy systems, and blockchain. How does this work? What are you developing with these applications?

My research focuses on designing a smart digital platform (using artificial intelligence) and devising effective incentive mechanisms for peers to exchange energy data and trade energy without the need for an intermediary. Blockchain technology helps accomplish the later objective of facilitating peer-to-peer trading without the need for centralized authority.

What’s the long-term potential of your work? What impact will your work have on climate change?

To mitigate climate change issues, one of the most important steps is to reduce the carbon footprint. One effective way of reducing carbon emission is using clean energy technologies for generating energy, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuel-based generation technologies. Society is making strides towards that goal by deploying more renewable energy generation plants. Small-scale renewable energy, referred to as ‘distributed energy resources’ (DERs) are also a part of this effort. As the DER deployment grows, more and more end-users or consumers will produce energy on-site from renewable energy resources such as rooftop solar panels. We should find a way for these DER producers to sell the excess energy they generate, so that the economics of the deployment plays out in their favor – designing a platform for trading this energy (which is generated by residential and commercial buildings as opposed to centralized utility-scale energy generation plants) is my focus.

In short, enabling peer-to-peer energy markets is a strong incentivization mechanism for more clean energy deployment – and it can be accomplished with the help of AI and Blockchain technologies.

What’s exciting or fascinating about this research for you?

Artificial Intelligence methods and Blockchain technology together enable so much that couldn’t be done a decade ago – be it creating a way for secure data exchange, or obtaining accurate energy consumption profile predictions. Putting together the pieces of this puzzle, which involves physical systems and digital layers, has been made possible because of the advancements in these two key technologies. Tinkering with code-bases involving these two technologies fascinates me a lot!

What inspired you to go into this field?

Growing up, I loved math and science. I received enough support and encouragement to keep marching forward (which was pretty unusual for girls in my community in the country I grew up in, at that time). In high school, I got exposed to the science of renewable energy and participated in a project to build tiny wind-mill models – I found it exciting. Electrical Engineering then seemed like a strong option to pursue.

During my undergraduate education, I became increasingly interested in grid-edge technologies like distributed energy resources and infusing intelligence in the grid to operate these resources. This led me to the opportunity to conduct my bachelor’s thesis at Deakin University, Australia. Conducting hardware-in-the-loop experiments in Deakin’s Renewable Energy was a rewarding experience. Later, during my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University, I began gravitating towards the field of artificial intelligence. My desire to be part of the solution for climate change problems, a keen interest in conducting research in the all-things-electrified domain, and fascination with the field of artificial intelligence –  these are the key drivers that led me to the path I’m on. Another critical factor was the inspiration and encouragement from many mentors and advisors along the way.

You’ve been involved in organizations like Women in AI and the Society of Women Engineers. Why did you choose to become involved with these organizations? What’s your perspective on women in engineering?

I experienced a fair amount of resistance from elders in the family when I wanted to become an engineer. My grandfather had the mentality that investing in a girl’s education is not a good use of the constrained resources they had. Fortunately, my parents were supportive of my continued education, so I made the tough decision to choose an electrical engineering major and go to college, and it worked out well for me.

Since my undergrad days, in my journey, a big ally has been the inspiration and encouragement from many mentors and advisors along the way – I am involved with these organizations as a way to paying it forward, by helping young girls see and understand that STEM is an exciting and rewarding career to pursue. There is worldwide momentum in raising awareness about the importance of STEM education for girls and women within communities. Yet we are a long way from making it an even playing field for humanity.

Also, I strongly believe choosing to pursue a STEM career does not have to be a “swim against the tide” decision for young girls and women in today’s world. We need the huge, untapped potential of female talent, whose contributions can help build a sustainable future for the planet. Science and engineering fields cannot afford to miss out on the contributions of many talented individuals because of their gender.

Why did you choose UBC for your Ph.D.?

My background was in artificial intelligence and energy systems. I needed to learn Blockchain skills for making progress towards my vision of my Ph.D. research – Blockchain@UBC was the right fit. Moreover, I found the research being conducted at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of UBC interesting. These two factors combined made UBC my destination for conducting Ph.D. research. It was only after I landed in Vancouver that I realized that magnificent views, beautiful campus, and pleasant weather are additional perks of being at UBC!

Find Sakshi Mishra’s Forbes 30 Under 30 profile here.