Women in Engineering Day: the future of females in energy
Today is Women in Engineering Day; Energy Digital spoke exclusively to Elena Bou, Innovation Director at InnoEnergy, about the role of women in STEM - specifically with regard to the energy industry - and the future of female workers in this sector.
Why are there relatively few women are in the sustainable energy space? Is this the same for the energy sector as a whole?
The fact that there are relatively few women in sustainable energy is a complex problem largely because there are many factors at play:
1. Lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education: 1,300 million people with technical skills will be required by 2020, and current graduate levels in STEM subjects are not sufficient to fill this need. Policy makers within the EU have recently called for more to be done to attract students to this area. However, there is a secondary problem in that women are grossly under-represented in STEM. A 2012 WISE report stated that “while a few (mainly ex-Soviet) countries have around 20 per cent women in STEM, Western European countries such as France and Spain (17% each), Denmark (16%), Germany (15%), Finland (15%), and UK (9%) all bring the European average down to 17 per cent.” If we take a broader look at engineering studies at a whole, the scenario is not more promising: three quarters of the students are male.
2. Lack of role models: A common complaint amongst women who are looking to enter the energy field is the lack of role models. Role models in this context refers to successful females who have succeeded in energy businesses. Aspiring women want role models as they provide a great source of inspiration, guidance, knowledge and confidence building. The vicious cycle of the low number of women entrepreneurs results in lower numbers of successful role models. However, this can be broken when the gap between potential role models and entrepreneurs is bridged by sharing experiences and successes.
3. Socio-cultural factors: It is important to address the differences in socio-cultural factors, with special emphasis on the way girls are raised in the different European countries. While women educated in STEM fields constitute a mere quarter of the total number of STEM students, these percentages vary across European countries. For instance, Baltic countries such as Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Slovenia, Poland and Lithuania have more women engineers than male engineers (UN Report). So it is clear that the number of women studying STEM subjects varies considerably across Europe. An interesting area to probe into deeper would be to observe any patterns in how girls are raised that positively influences them to choose STEM fields and / or entrepreneurship.
The energy industry is a typical male-dominated environment, although, interestingly, scientific studies have demonstrated no significant differences between male and female leaders in their demonstration of emotional and social intelligence. The most successful men and women were also more similar than different when it comes to these competencies. However, gender biases persist, as male leaders were assessed as more successful even when the female leaders demonstrated an equivalent competency level.
This is the general situation, independently of the energy field. However, lately we have found out two interesting aspects in the case of female energy entrepreneurs. In start-ups where they are applying cross-innovation between health/biomedicine and energy, women have a predominant role. Also, the number of women that founded energy start-ups based on software, and trying to solve problems on mobility and smart housing, is slightly larger than on hardware.
Is the trend starting to change?
Despite the low number of women in the sustainable energy field, the context is promising. The European energy market is changing. New business models are appearing and the Winter Package from the European Commission on the future of energy is highlighting new areas of development and recommending a consumer-centric approach. This new context requires high doses of creativity, high potential diverse teams and a multidisciplinary approach to face energy challenges.
For instance, when dealing with introducing innovations in the field of energy efficiency in buildings, technology was the main point of attention. Today, we know that a holistic perspective is needed. Multidisciplinary teams where engineers, economists, anthropologists and legal experts work together accelerates innovation in this sector. In such a context, women in sustainable energy may definitely play a more active role because here, the supply shortcoming is solved.
What advice would you offer women seeking to pursue a career in the industry?
Be persistent, be game-changers, be confident that you can contribute to create new opportunities. Sustainable energy is a field in line with the “natural” motivations of many female professionals: to make this world a better place for future generations!
Why it is important for diverse boardrooms and teams to tackle the energy issues of the day/future?
One of the key aspects for creating disruptive innovation is the creativity potential. This potential is positively correlated with the level of diversity, which is proven to create the so-called ‘creative abrasion’ that is the source of innovative ideas. That is why InnoEnergy looks for complementary teams, with different knowledge backgrounds, nationalities, and 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).
HyNet North West and InterGen to build Zero Carbon plant
Expected to begin in the mid-2020s, the partnership could reduce the CO2 emissions from the Runcorn power station by over 150,000 tonnes each year, the equivalent of taking 60,000 cars off the road every year.
Situated across one of the UK’s largest industrial areas which supports the highest number of manufacturing jobs of any UK region, HyNet North West will bring clean growth to safeguard jobs, and create thousands of new employment opportunities.
Following a commitment of £72 million in funding, HyNet North West will transform the North West into the world’s first low carbon industrial cluster, playing a critical role in the UK’s transition to ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the global fight against climate change.
HyNet North West will begin decarbonising the North West and North Wales region from 2025, replacing fossil fuels currently used for electricity generation, industry, heating homes and transportation with clean hydrogen. The project will also capture and lock up carbon which is currently emitted into the atmosphere.
It anticipates that by 2028, Rocksavage will have enough hydrogen produced by HyNet to move towards a 100% net zero power generation power station as the Gas Turbine technology becomes available.
InterGen’s Rocksavage Plant Manager Dan Fosberg said Rocksavage has been safely generating energy to power the north west for nearly 25 years, but in order to meet the UK’s net zero targets, traditional generation needs to adapt.
"HyNet North West will allow us to pivot our operations as we transition to a low-carbon world. The proximity of the Rocksavage Power Plant to the HyNet North West hydrogen network provides us with an exciting and unique opportunity," he said.
As soon as the first stage of the hydrogen network is available at Runcorn, InterGen intends to modify the existing generating plant to consume a blend of hydrogen with natural gas and start to reduce our emissions.
The HyNet North West project milestones mean that Rocksavage could be the first plant in the UK to blend Hydrogen with natural gas, a step forward for the industry in the target for net-zero. Once the gas turbine technology becomes available, it will explore options with HyNet North West to create a zero emissions power station using 100% hydrogen.
The project will play a big part in supporting Liverpool City Region in its commitment to reach zero carbon by 2040 and accelerate the UK’s transition to net zero by 2050.
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said: “Putting the Liverpool City Region at the heart of the Green Industrial Revolution is one of my top priorities. With our existing strengths in green energy, we have the potential to become the UK’s renewable energy coast.
“I am committed to doubling the number of green jobs in our region and exciting projects like HyNet will be a key part of that. We’re going to lead the way, not only in doing our bit to tackle climate change, but in pioneering new and innovative technology that in turn attracts more jobs and investment to our region.”
David Parkin, HyNet North West Project Director, said HyNet North West will play a big part in tackling climate change regionally. "It will ensure the region remains an attractive location for investment and for companies to grow through the establishment of a clean economy, protection of skilled jobs and creation of thousands of new long-term employment opportunities.
“Our partnership with InterGen at Rocksavage shows just how great an impact HyNet will have on the region – decarbonising homes, workplaces, travel and industry.”
HyNet North West is a low carbon energy project at the forefront of the UK’s journey to a Net Zero future, being developed by a consortium comprising Progressive Energy, Cadent, Essar, Inovyn, Eni, University of Chester, CF Fertilisers and Hanson.