15 min read
Restoring Our Earth: Shaping the future of sustainability
In the following interview, transcribed from a recent Power Pulse Podcast episode, we honor Earth Day (April 22) by discussing the importance of and ways we can all contribute to a cleaner, greener, carbon-neutral future.
Read along for an inspiring conversation with Johanna Flood, Head of Environment, and Matthew North, Head of Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainability for Hitachi ABB Power Grids as we talk about the causes and impacts from carbon emissions, strategies for decarbonization, as well as tips on how we, as individuals and organizations, can reduce our carbon footprint.
As you’re probably already aware, offshore wind is creating a lot of buzz in North America right now, specifically in the Northeastern part of the United States due to declining generation costs, technological advancements, and approaching federal and state clean energy targets, making this untapped market very attractive to developers, utilities and job seekers.
Speaking of jobs, IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, projects that by 2050, there will be around 40 million jobs directly related to renewable energy and energy efficiency worldwide, which is more than a four-fold increase from today. But, unsurprisingly, women represent less than half of this industry right now.
On the bright side, women do account for 32% of jobs in the renewable sector right now, compared to around 22% in the energy industry overall, which indicates that female representation in renewables is considerably more favorable. So, we know the opportunity is there for women and those jobs are coming, we just need to figure out how to attract more female talent.
And that’s what we’re going to discuss today with Carrie and Fabio. We’ll talk about the current lack of female representation in the renewables industry, how and why that is, as well as how the offshore wind industry is pumping out more and more opportunities every day and how this is really the prime time for women to get involved at the ground floor of this boom.
Fabio, in your opinion, what can we do to get more women interested and involved in offshore wind or even renewable energy jobs in general?
Fabio: I believe we should reinforce a couple of important aspects of the renewable energy sector that should be relevant to all professionals, but possibly even more appealing to female professionals. First, by working in renewables, I feel like I am contributing to a better society and a more sustainable future. It’s very rewarding to see my kids tell other people that their Dad works with renewable energy and helps to build a better planet. It’s my small, yet important contribution. Another aspect is segment growth. This translates into many career opportunities without losing a certain degree of stability. Lastly, I see companies and people in the renewable segment slightly more focused on a good work-life balance, maybe due to a higher degree of flexibility when compared to other traditional industries. These are probably important factors for anybody, but certainly to the many talented women out there.
Carrie, why do you think there is a lack of diversity and female representation in offshore wind? Why do you think more women should consider a career in renewable energy?
Carrie: There is certainly more representation now than there has been in the past or when I started my career. I remember going to hearings and meetings and probably being one of the only females in the room. And that's no longer the case, which is fantastic. But then and now, most women that are in the field predominately work in the legal, communication, policy, and stakeholder management roles. I think that is the case because women traditionally had studied in those fields. They received law degrees, HR degrees, or policy degrees - that's what they focused on in their studies. And when they moved into the workforce, they kept those with them. And I think women have gravitated towards those roles historically because we're good at them. Those are things where our innate skills shine really well. As more women have pursued engineering and finance degrees, a shift has occurred. And we will see that come to fruition in the offshore wind space.
Why do you think more women should consider a career in renewable energy?
Carrie: There is an aspect to it that you are doing good. Not just for yourself, but for your family and for the world as a whole. You are contributing to something that is progress and is addressing a major challenge that we have, which is climate issues. Secondly, the type of activities and skills that are needed in offshore wind really run the gamut. You can do all different types of things. You can be an engineer and work on construction or O&M aspects. You can work on the stakeholder piece, or the legal piece and work on permitting or regulatory things. You could work on community outreach. There is a lot of opportunity across a spectrum of fields and skillsets, and I find that really attractive.
Carrie and Fabio, where do you see opportunities for early career professionals, particularly women, to get involved? Are there any skill sets that are especially appealing to companies in the field?
Carrie: Yes, I think when people talk about offshore wind, or in my mindset, I also think about STEM fields and engineering. But there are other skills that are equally important and needed. For example, financial skills. Do you know how to understand or negotiate a power purchase agreement (which is essentially a contract for the output of your product). Or, do you have financial skills that might help you become a procurement officer? These projects are worth billions of dollars and the procurement related to them is massive and, in itself, a field. So those are skills that are really important. And even at the entry-level, you can bring your background or your training as an analyst into this space, a financial analyst, or even a market analyst. Those things are really useful and companies are looking for those. I should also say because it's really important right now in the U.S. if you're interested in policy, there are enormous opportunities for permitting and regulatory positions (helping understand those regulations and moving companies forward with their applications to develop their projects). So that's where the growth is right now.
Fabio: Besides having space for many different professions, including many non-technical areas, the offshore industry in the U.S. is still taking “baby steps”, meaning the industry growth will automatically offer lots of opportunities for professionals looking to building a career on it. In terms of having a particular skill set, I believe we need professionals that have the capacity to understand the high complexities of the segment and translate that into action that helps companies navigate through those. Being in such a dynamic sector, professionals must be constantly prepared for changes and new developments, so I guess flexibility without losing focus on the final goals is also quite important.
Knowing this gender gap is slowly closing, what, in your opinion are some of the ways that organizations can support the engagement of women in STEM fields? And what about those people in non-technical roles – can they still get involved, too?
Fabio: I truly believe that the secret to attract more women to STEM fields is to start engaging them at early ages, without trying to influence a boy or a girl into any particular profession, but rather letting them freely gravitate towards the things they feel most attracted to. It’s important however to demystify some of the bias out there. For example, building a rocket or designing a car should not be a “boy thing” only. It’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, professionals, and leaders to ensure that girls get exposed to STEM fields, as much as she gets exposed to any other supposed “girl things”.
In terms of roles, as mentioned before, the offshore wind industry needs a lot of non-technical professionals. If you consider all the developments that will happen beyond offshore wind farm projects, there will a vast number of different professionals involved. Some examples of non-technical roles can be found in the supply chain field, projects infrastructure, legal, logistics, environment, and even wind farms tourism. Believe it or not, there are lots of people curious to see those turbine blades turning from close by – and maybe catch a fish while watching clean energy being produced.
Carrie: One of the highlights so far from my role at the Consortium was visiting the blade testing facility in Massachusetts. It's really cool to see these things up close. And it is educational too. You start to understand the magnitude of what we're dealing with and what's needed to construct offshore wind, which is really cool. One way the government can support these efforts is by increasing, at the earliest level, an understanding of science, engineering, and climate issues as part of the curriculum. One of the best things I've done is go to my daughter's 7th-grade class and talk about offshore wind with some models and just made them aware that this is coming and it peaks their interest.
Carrie, how do you see the energy sector changing in the United States and what are the possible implications as well as benefits for women working in this industry?
Carrie: The electricity industry in the U.S. has been changing and evolving for a long time, kind of in an evolutionary way, opposed to a revolutionary way. It's been slow. There was a significant restructuring effort started in the U.S. about 20-30 years ago, and that has continued to take different shapes and forms, but the opportunities that have come out of that, have really been in renewables. With the restructuring of the wholesale and even retail markets in some parts of the U.S., you saw the growth of wind and solar both at the distributed level, particularly for solar, but also at the utility-scale level. And that will continue. And I think that offshore wind will blow that wide open even much more so, because of the amount of capital investment and the amount of energy and capacity that is going to come from these facilities in the next 10-15 years, will overshadow any transformation that has taken place in the last 50 years in the U.S.
Fabio, what benefits have you seen when more women are involved in the strategy and decision-making process? And how do you think men can support more women advancing in the energy and renewables sector?
The secret to me for having more women advancing in the sector is working at the very early stages. It’s much more difficult to ensure a 50/50 balance between male/female leaders if your pool of candidates for a job interview or trainees entering the company is 80/20. We can and should work hard to identify female talent in our existing pool of employees and support them to further develop themselves. However, if we ensure more girls become attracted to our sector, we will automatically have a better balance in the young professional’s base, and consequently, in the leadership.
To switch gears a little bit, Carrie - Did you receive any advice early in your career that helped you get to where you are today?
Carrie: Don't be afraid. As we've said, there are so many different skills that are needed that no one should be afraid to think about this space; to work in the offshore wind industry, or the energy industry generally. There are lots of different opportunities. So that's the first piece of advice. Don't think you can't do it. You can.
The advice that I've been given is more so practical advice. The first is on how to be effective. One of the primary things that I've done and have been advised to do is to stop saying 'sorry' when you make a mistake. We all make mistakes - it's totally fine. Learn from it. Move on. Pick up. You don't need to apologize, necessarily.
The second is, run efficient meetings. This seems minor, but it matters. Use people's time efficiently. Have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a reason for meeting. I've found that to be one of the best pieces of advice that I was given really early on and if you do that, you can be really effective. People respect you more. You get more out of your meeting. And people enjoy the meetings more as well.
The final thing is, don't make assumptions about your fellow employees or people you might be hiring. Assumptions were made early on in my career about whether I would travel or not because I had a family. And I didn't like people making assumptions about that - I love to travel, for work just as much as I did for pleasure, so no one should assume that I didn't want to do that for my job.
Carrie and Fabio, what advice do you have for our female listeners who are interested in pursuing or advancing their career in clean energy?
Meet our guests
My entire career has been spent in the energy sector, focusing on the industrial segment including oil & gas, metals, mining, transportation, data centers, etc. I started my career in Brazil, and 4 years later, moved to Germany where I stayed for almost 10 years before moving to the United States in 2015.
This entire time, I worked in the industrial segment, supplying heavy electrical equipment and systems. Despite being in different segments, I initially started in manufacturing through production, engineering, and project management until I ended up in the commercial area, including business development, account management, and sales. After spending the past 3 years in Oil & Gas, focusing on emerging industries such as data centers and renewables, I now am responsible for developing the renewable market in North America.
I am the Executive Director at the National Offshore Wind Research & Development Consortium (NOWRDC).
My entire career has been spent in the energy sector. I've had multiple and varied work experiences, really moving in and out of the public and private sector over the past few decades.
I started my career as an analyst on the energy committee at the Massachusetts Legislature, and shortly thereafter, I had an opportunity to work with one of the leading experts on transmission and grid market design in the late 90's when the U.S. was looking at transforming its wholesale electricity market. I then took that technical knowledge and went to a start-up that focused on new competitive electricity models, both on the retail and wholesale side. We evolved into focusing on renewables, early on when renewables were just starting to take hold in the U.S., as well as the development of power purchase agreements, which is really the foundation for commercial transactions for renewable energy.
After this, I bounced back between the public and private sectors before serving as President of New Hampshire Transmission Company, a regulated subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources. After which, I ended up at NOWRDC in my current position.