Our People

Dr Indra Haraksingh

Leading Caribbean scholar and advocate for renewable energy, wins Life Pioneer Award

By Joel Henry

UWI St Augustine’s Dr Indra Haraksingh, one of the region’s leading scientists in renewable energy research and policy, has been recognised for her work with a Life Pioneer Award for Solar Energy from the World Renewable Energy Network (WREN). She is one of 12 people, and the only one from the Caribbean, to receive this honour.

Dr Haraksingh, a lecturer from the Department of Physics within the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST), received her award virtually at WREN’s World Renewable Energy Congress (WREC), held in Portugal in July 2021.

“This recognition is really much appreciated,” says Dr Haraksingh. “I have been working very tirelessly [in renewable energy] in the region and also Trinidad and Tobago for decades.”

She has been deeply involved in renewable energy for almost 40 years now – producing award-winning research, providing her expertise in the development of regional policy, and training several generations of professionals in the field, both on and off campus. Dr Haraksingh sees the Life Pioneer Award as one representation of her efforts, particularly when looking back at the challenges faced by those in the movement for renewable and alternative energy sources.

“Sometimes you feel as if you are bouncing your head against a concrete wall, especially in the earlier days,” she recalls. “There was not that much interest at that time. However, you have to keep trying. I never gave up. That is one of the things that has brought me to this point.”

Based in the United Kingdom and affiliated with UNESCO, WREN is a major non-profit organisation with over 168 member countries/regions. Its purpose is to support the implementation of renewable energy sources worldwide. WREC is held biennially. Dr Haraksingh, who regularly takes part in the Congress, opted to attend virtually this year due to COVID-19. Up to a few days into the event (it was held from July 26 to 30), she did not know she would be an award recipient.

“I was following the event and suddenly on the 28th of July I received an email from WREN telling me that I was going to be presented with this Life Pioneer award and the ceremony was going to be on the 30th,” she recounts, adding, “I was extremely pleased to hear this.”

The award is not the only one that Dr Haraksingh has earned over her career. In 2002, she received the Outstanding Scientist Award from WREN for her solar energy-related research publication. She won their International Pioneer Award for Solar Energy in 2008. In 2012, she was the recipient of the NIHERST Award for Excellence in Science and Technology, and in 2017 she received The UWI Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Public Service.

Dr Haraksingh has been just as active outside of the lab as an advocate and expert in renewable energy. The UWI lecturer is a member of CARICOM’s Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Programme (CREDP), and has served as president of both The Caribbean Solar Energy Society and the Trinidad and Tobago Solar Energy Society. She was also a member of T&T’s cabinet-appointed Renewable Energy Committee that was vital in formulating the national policy in 2009. Internationally, she has coordinated renewable energy projects with several universities for the benefit of The UWI and its students.

“A lot has been going on in the region,” she says of the Caribbean’s progress in finding sustainable solutions to our energy needs. “CARICOM has played a crucial role in accelerating the growth of renewable energy. We have been making strides. [Through CREDP], we worked on renewable energy policy and many other projects.”

Dr Haraksingh says there has been great momentum in energy policy in islands like Barbados, St Lucia, and others. T&T has been “a bit slower in the uptake”, most likely because of our low energy costs, but “is forging ahead to honour its international commitments and our national interest”, she explains.

Some of her most impactful work has been as an educator. She provides training throughout the Caribbean to both private and public institutions. At UWI, she led the development of the Master of Science in Renewable Energy Technology programme. Established in 2013, it is the first of its kind in the region.

“In the Physics Department, we have never had an MSc programme. We had MPhil and PhD programmes. These programmes can provide a limited number of graduates. However, with the expansion of renewable energy deployment in the Caribbean, I felt that the region needed to have trained personnel [in the field of renewable energy] in a short space of time. So, I started working on the MSc,” she says. “We started it in the 2013/2014 academic year and it has been going strong since.”

Research, advocacy, teaching – it seems like a monumental workload, especially when you consider she is also the Country Team Leader for T&T’s Math Olympiad Team, and now a grandmother. How does she find time for it all?

“I think it’s my whole work ethic,” she says, pointing to the importance of her parents in contributing to her character from a young age. She points as well to her faith, Hinduism, which places a strong emphasis on education.

Although, she does admit that during her undergraduate years at UWI she wasn’t the best student: “Just coming out of high school and coming to UWI, it was such a big experience. I was part of the choir. I was part of the dance troupe. I used to play tennis more than anything else. In fact, I represented UWI at tennis.”

She adds: “I pride myself on being a much better teacher than student.”

Two of her greatest motivators, however, are life experience and passion. As a young educator and scientist she did face gender bias, which prompted her to prove her worth and succeed. In 1991, she was badly injured in a car accident, an incident that led her to reassess her life and pursue her PhD in solar energy.

Then, there is her concern for the planet and her understanding that we need to live more sustainably.

“We are so vulnerable,” she says, “small island ecosystems are very fragile. We must preserve and protect Mother Earth.”

Dr Haraksingh is also clear about the role of UWI in her professional development and the impact of her work, naming in particular the late Professor Oliver Headley, another solar energy pioneer and also chemistry professor at the St Augustine and Cave Hill Campuses:

“He was very much an inspiration for me,” she says, adding that, “Everything I have done, I have done at UWI - my first degree, my diploma, and my MPhil and PhD. The UWI has been my light.”

She adds: “I also wish to recognise the role my family played in my development. My husband (Dr Kusha Haraksingh) and my daughter (Dr Rajini Haraksingh) have been constant sources of inspiration, motivation and support for me.”

Asked if she has any advice for people who want to become involved in work or study related to vital, world-changing fields such as climate change, Dr Haraksingh looks around her room, rises to read something off camera, and then returns to her seat.

She says, “My daughter has on the wall of her room from a child, the message ‘your imagination has no limits’. I think that’s a good motto to follow. Think big. You can do it. You just have to put your mind to it and focus. However, there is no replacement for hard work and dedication.”