When it comes to clean energy, Mishal Thadani keeps moving.

Mishal Thadani ’12 left Houston to advance his energy career. He knew the path — use the Rice
network, climb the ranks in oil and gas, sit back and drink Shiners.

But the McAllen, Texas, native’s drive extends beyond a resume: He wants to save the environment. It’s a vocation he’s had since his freshman year, when he took Introduction to Civil and Environmental Engineering with Phil Bedient, the Herman and George R. Brown Professor of Civil Engineering. Bedient’s course emphasized humans’ impact on the environment and jump-started Thadani’s interest in civil engineering. 

After graduation, Thadani found jobs in Texas’ burgeoning wind energy sector, but his work often felt overshadowed among Houston’s oil and gas economy. That changed when he got an opportunity at Direct Energy — an energy retail company headquartered in Houston — in their solar department located in Washington, D.C.

In the nation’s capital, Thadani found a thriving community of sustainable energy advocates, primarily through the Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI), a nonprofit with a coveted fellowship program. After applying for and being accepted into their fellowship program, he saw an opportunity. In 2016, the D.C. Council passed a bill that “made it the strongest market for solar energy based on [user] incentives,” Thadani said. Armed with market knowledge and a business partner he met through CELI, Thadani resigned from Direct Energy to start his own company, District Solar.

District Solar made using in-home solar energy as “turnkey” as possible. It existed for three years and deepened solar adoption by D.C. residents, Thadani said. In the process of running the company as “a service for the District,” he learned where his interest truly lies — energy policy.

“Being the energy capital of the world means sustainable energy too.”

He went to work as director of market development and policy for Urbint, an AI company whose software helps identify physical risks in utility companies’ infrastructure. This work has enormous consequences for the environment — like avoiding gas explosions and minimizing forest fires — and deepens Thadani’s policy work across the country.

Energy is not only the content of his career, it is also the current of his life. Outside of his job, Thadani leads initiatives with CELI, lectures on clean energy, pens white papers about energy policy, and even helped write and pass two pieces of legislation for the D.C. Council. 

His focus is narrowing in on an important project. “Houston has never been a hub for clean energy,” he said. That fact was on Thadani’s mind when he participated in a panel about Texas energy policy for the Rice Alternative Energy Club in fall 2020. This was exciting — a group with this scope did not exist when he was at Rice. Thadani sees a generational shift happening in Houston’s energy world. As evidence, he cites Rice’s Clean Energy Accelerator within the Jones Graduate of School of Business and the fact that more clean energy companies are headquartering in the Bayou City. Thadani represents this next generation of sustainable energy professionals — and he’s ready to be the mentor he could not find when he was at Rice. “Being the energy capital of the world means sustainable energy too.”

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