Celebrating international women's day in sustainable energy entrepreneurship
In 1975 the UN declared 8 March as International Women’s Day (IWD). Originally, this day was to promote equal rights between men and women at work. Today, it is a general celebration of the role of women in society and their economic, political and social achievements.
Talking about women and work can be a sensitive topic. Analysis all too often becomes subjective, based on personal experiences or gets waylaid into a 'gender battle'. I prefer to go with the facts.
Statistics say that 31 percent of entrepreneurs in Europe are women. And, in my field – sustainable energy – it falls to an even narrower minority, around 11 percent. These figures are not encouraging, especially when talking about innovation and entrepreneurship in a field that is crucial for our economical development and welfare of our society.
Why is gender equality especially relevant in innovation and entrepreneurship?
One of the key aspects for creating disruptive innovation is the creativity potential. This potential is positively correlated with the level of diversity. Diversity is proven to create the so-called “creative abrasion” that is the source of innovative ideas. That is why we look for complementary teams, with different knowledge backgrounds, different nationalities, and, also, different gender. The lack of women in entrepreneurial teams diminishes this creativity potential and ultimately reduces the opportunities for innovation.
This is one of the reasons why in most studies of start-ups and their ecosystems gender equality and the presence of foreign employees are used as proxy indicators of this creativity potential (e.g. The Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking 2015 by Compas, Global Women Entrepreneurship Scorecard by Dell, 2015).
Based on start-up ecosystem studies, the lack of female entrepreneurs is not only a European problem and despite an 80 percent increase in female founders in the last three years, according to ECommerceGenome Global Start-up Ecosystem Ranking, no ecosystem in the world comes close to an equal share of male and female entrepreneurs.
Another more generic reason comes from demographics. Today in Europe, female population exceeds the male one. 51 percent of European citizens are women. Can we afford to waste this talent? This is even more paradoxical when we are living through a transition in our companies. Before we were talking about “human resources” – today about 'human capital'. If this is the case, it is a social responsibility to tackle this topic seriously and - importantly – understand the reasons behind this change.
A photograph of our InnoEnergy Women Entrepreneurs
At InnoEnergy – the largest accelerator in sustainable energy worldwide, we have actively begun researching why the number of women entrepreneurs is so low. In our current portfolio of 150+ supported companies we found that just 15 percent have women entrepreneurs, slightly above the European average. When it comes to nationalities, Sweden and France take the lead on the number of female entrepreneurs and the academic background of these women is equally distributed between business and STEM studies.
If we review the type of technology or markets that these women are working in, the sample is diverse. In our portfolio, women entrepreneurs are found in fields across the board, including smart buildings, energy efficiency, storage, renewable energy and even energy for chemical fuels. However, there are two interesting aspects. In start-ups where they are applying cross-innovation between health/biomedical and energy, women have a predominant role. Also, more women created start-ups based on software, and trying to solve problems on mobility and smart housing, when compared with hardware.
All our entrepreneurs – regardless of gender – share the same motivations to start a company. But in the case of female founders there are two motivations that appear more frequently: the lack of opportunity to develop in their previous working environment and the desire to do something good. This is, to have a positive impact on society.
Our analysis seems to confirm some of the aspects highlighted by literature and statistics. There is a strong correlation between education and entrepreneurship in sustainable energy. Women make up only one quarter of the STEM classrooms on average across Europe (Eurostat, 2015). This partially explains a potential supply problem. However, when innovation comes from 'complementary' teams or cross-innovation, women have more opportunities because they represent the majority of people in tertiary education in social sciences, business and law, and health and welfare.
Culture and social aspects also have an influence. It is not a coincidence that most of our women entrepreneurs are in Sweden – it is a country that is putting a lot of effort on gender mainstreaming.
When asked about the main barriers to start-up in this field, access to social capital was the most commonly quoted hurdle. Entering into a typical “boy’s network” is especially challenging and most women need to rely on their male colleagues and peers to obtain initial introductions into professional networks. Conscious of this barrier, most successful female entrepreneurs began building networks from day one and demonstrate a pro-active attitude towards it. This finding confirms the conclusions of previous studies on women entrepreneurs, that access to social capital is one of the main barriers.
However, against common belief and statistical data, access to finance was not perceived as a barrier for our female entrepreneurs. Inquiring about this topic, we came to the conclusion that most of our women entrepreneurs resort to their family for funding. Some possible reasons are that they have less ambitious plans and their need of capital is not so high, especially because many of them are in non-capital intensive technologies within the field of sustainable energy. One interesting finding is that women are more effective at raising funds as a result of face-to-face meetings. This is especially the case if they resort to bank loans for funding.
The light at the end of the tunnel
InnoEnergy’s initial study of our female entrepreneurs has allowed us to begin exploring this issue on depth. Indeed, this is just a first step, but we are convinced that mobilising all our European talent towards innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable energy will have a positive impact on solving our society’s energy challenges.
Despite the low number of women entrepreneurs in sustainable energy, the context is promising. Our energy market is changing, new business models are appearing and the Winter Package from the EC about the future of energy is highlighting new areas of development, putting the consumer at the centre. This new context requires high doses of creativity, high-potential and diverse teams and a multidisciplinary approach to face energy challenges. In this context, I am hopeful that entrepreneurial women in sustainable energy can begin to play a more active role.
Elena Bou is the Innovation Director of InnoEnergy
Ruest-Archambault, E., von Tunzelmann, N., Iammarino, S., Jagger, N., & Miller, L. (2011). Benchmarking Policy Measures for Gender Equality in Science, 1–164.
Bullough, A., de Luque, M. S., Abdelzaher, D., & Heim, W. (2015). Developing Women Leaders through Entrepreneurship Education and Training. Academy of Management Perspectives, 29(2), 250–270.
Read the March 2017 edition of Energy Digital magazine
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere