Living Leeside: From Indian village with no electricity to Cork scientist tackling climate change

Living Leeside: From Indian village with no electricity to Cork scientist tackling climate change
Piyush Verma at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

INDIAN scientist Piyush Verma loves a challenge, which is good because in his 33 years, he has encountered more than a few.

Born in a small rural area in India and growing up in an underprivileged family with no electricity until his mid-teens, Piyush studied by a kerosene oil lamp and didn’t learn English until he went to college.

“In my hometown, there was no computer and internet facility and the first time I saw a computer was when I went into my undergraduate in electrical engineering in 2002.”

In his first year of engineering he failed several subjects because it was all in English and he couldn’t understand anything. 

“My parents were regularly asking me to come back home as they thought I was wasting their hard-earned money. After several negotiations and requests, they agreed to allow me to stay for one more year and if I couldn’t do it, I was told to come back home.

“Finally, my hard work and commitment brought me back on the track when I cleared all my backlogs and also became the top of my electrical engineering discipline in my second year, overcoming all the language barriers and other things.”

Piyush Verma outside the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
Piyush Verma outside the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

Piyush did a postgraduate in power system engineering in India followed by a fully paid PhD in New Zealand after spending a few years lecturing in electrical engineering and working as an energy engineer with an eco-friendly food packaging company before progressing to work with the Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency.

“I was doing pretty well with the food packaging company, but I wanted to have a bigger picture of energy and climate change issues and especially, I wanted to work on policy.

“I decided to move to Delhi after getting an opportunity with the government — Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency — a counterpart of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland where I learned the scale of the problem the energy sector is facing and experienced the real challenges of policy development and implementation.” 

After months of applying for PhD programmes around the world, Piyush was accepted onto a fully funded scheme in New Zealand.

After finishing his PhD, Piyush did short-term assignments in energy policy before applying for and accepting a position in Cork in the International Energy Research Centre.

“Considering my ambitions and long-term goals, at some stage, I wanted to move to Europe or US to have broader experience on energy policy.” 

Piyush now works as a senior policy energy analyst for the International Energy Research Centre (IERC), a funded body by the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment (DCCAE) and based at Tyndall National Institute.

“I lead the energy policy and regulatory innovation work and I am very passionate about bringing the best and timely solution to reduce the impact of climate change. 

"Although I am an engineer, I work on the intersection of technology, policy, society and environment. Most of my days goes on finding the best policy options to decarbonise the energy sector in Ireland. I also represent Ireland as Future Energy Leader and World Energy Council in several international events where I speak frequently.”

While Piyush works very hard he also enjoy socialising in the city centre with his Wife Alka with whom he has a son, Rishon, aged four.

They are in an arranged marriage, decided and agreed by their parents. They have been married for seven years. “Our parents met and agreed. We met for 30 minutes, spoke and decided to marry. It was difficult. Slowly, slowly, we built the relationship.

“My first job was a lecturer in India in 2006 and my wife studied in the university so I taught her before we were married. 

"She was my student in 2006 and then in 2013 our parents met and decided we should marry. She is a mechanical engineer and I was looking for someone with an engineering background.

Piyush Verma against the backdrop of the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
Piyush Verma against the backdrop of the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

“When we met I was surprised that she was my student from 2006. After marriage, she spent the first two months calling me ‘sir’ because that is what you call teachers in India.

“In 2014, we moved to New Zealand and in May 2015 our son Rishon was born.” 

Alka works in Johnson & Johnson in Ringaskiddy at the Dupont centre.

When not working at the Tyndall and being with his family, Piyush is studying leadership skills. 

The energy engineer has completed a course with the Irish Management Institute and is starting another course with Harvard Kennedy School in September which he is completing online.

“I’m hoping to move into more leadership and maybe political side of things in the future,” Piyush explained.

The young engineer also mentors Indian students at UCC, offering career advice and assistance to them from his wealth of experience.

“I feel a moral responsibility towards the society and therefore, I never hesitate to engage, support and contribute whenever I get an opportunity, many times I create the opportunity to engage with the citizens and societies.”

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