Out West student blog

Plugged into the Energy Commission

Sindhu loves to work on puzzles in her spare time! During the shelter-in-place she completed a 900 piece 3-D puzzle of Downton Abbey. She looks forward to starting a new set of Hogwarts puzzles soon! (Photo credit: Sindhu Nathan)

By Sindhu Nathan, PhD '22

Hometown: Austin, TX
Chemical Engineering
Intern, California Energy Commission

Why did you want to do this internship?

My background in chemical engineering is pretty technical--I've always been interested in understanding why materials behave the way they do and using that knowledge to make a clean energy future possible. I realized early in graduate school that I was especially interested in communicating science and using my scientific background to inform policymaking in the energy and climate space. When I learned about the Stanford Energy Internships from a mentor who had interned at the California Energy Commission (CEC) previously, I knew I couldn't pass the opportunity up. I'm really lucky to have the opportunity to explore the policy space as a graduate student!

How does your role support the host organization’s mission?

California has pledged to get five million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs, or vehicles powered by electricity or hydrogen instead of gasoline) on the road by 2030. To achieve those ambitious goals, experts at the CEC need to develop annual plans and provide government funding to projects. I am working in Commissioner Patty Monahan's office; she's the lead on transportation-related efforts at the CEC. I'm helping refine some of this year's reports that outline the progress we have made, the future we're hoping to make a reality, and the path to get there. I have been attending workshops, devising graphics, and editing report materials to support this effort. This work is essential to inform legislators on what the next steps are when it comes to passing new laws and allocating funding.

Describe a project you will be working on this summer.

One report that will be released this year is the Vehicle-Grid Integration Roadmap Update, which addresses the opportunities and challenges that arise as more cars are electrified. Because we will need more electricity to power those cars, renewable energy, like solar power, will be important to ensure we aren't adding greenhouse gas emissions. However, solar energy is only available when the sun is shining and most people want to charge their cars in the evening after work. We don't want to have to use a lot of fossil fuels to power our cars when it's cloudy or at night! Ultimately, we want to be able to share electricity between cars and the grid depending on when and where we need energy. This could let us take advantage of opportunities like charging cars when it’s sunny outside and using the car battery to help power homes at night, when you're not driving and there is no sunlight available.

How does this project relate to  your studies and/or career goals?

My PhD research is about understanding why some materials are good at converting carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and other feeds to fuels like ethanol. We want to use that understanding to design optimal materials that let us capture carbon and turn it into something more valuable and useful. Extending beyond the fundamental research I do at Stanford, these fuels and feeds can be useful to make transportation and other sectors cleaner. I realized in graduate school that teaching others about science and helping shape energy policy was the most exciting path for my career, so this internship has been a really special opportunity to learn and explore these interests.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I'm staying temporarily in my hometown in Texas right now, so a lot of my stuff is still in California! Recently I've been binging a lot of TV with my younger sister, who is also at home. But normally, I love to bake (cakes usually), draw and paint, and play board games with friends from college. During this pandemic, it's also been great to spend time with family and reconnect with people from childhood (virtually) when we were all feeling too busy to do so before.


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