The full participation of women in renewable energy is essential to the just transition
The transition to energy security and climate neutrality means we need to close the gender gap to fully engage women in technical, scientific and business transformation.
Although it has been in the works for some time, the EU’s strategy to break away from dependence on fossil fuels gained new momentum with geopolitical developments in Europe.
Already, on March 8, the European Commission proposed the main lines of a common European action plan for more affordable, safe and sustainable energy. The goal is to cut Russian gas demand by two-thirds by the end of this year.
The transition to clean and secure energy supplies in Europe and the efforts to combat climate change depend on several key factors. One factor that you may not have thought of yet is better integration of women in the development of the required technical solutions.
“With the complexity and challenges of 21st century issues, we need diverse thinkers and diverse leaders,” said Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-chair of the Roma Club and thought leader in the fields of climate, energy and sustainable development.
The Club of Rome conducts research on new thinking on complex issues on a global scale. “We can’t do it with just a male view of the world,” she said.
Women remain underrepresented in scientific, technical and engineering (STEM) disciplines, despite growing demand. They represent only 38% of doctors in physical sciences and engineering (27%). Only 24% of independent science, engineering and ICT professionals are women.
Society misses out when there is a lack of gender equality. “Women tend to lead with a longer-term view of what they want to achieve, and tend to lead not just focusing on power gains, but on finding solutions,” Dixson-Declève said. .
Professor Doris Damyanovic from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna focuses on sustainability in urban planning and landscape design.
She is particularly interested in gender issues and climate-neutral cities. It calls for rethinking urban planning, with an expansion of green and open spaces.
“The important thing is to consider gender, age, but also the social and cultural context in local planning,” she said.
“We are working on designing open public spaces with more trees or maybe using blue infrastructure such as a water fountain,” Damyanovic said. In hot weather, water fountains could make cities more livable by reducing temperatures.
A challenge for many European cities is to build affordable housing in places where people want to live, with good transport links.
Reliable and affordable public transport can free people from cars and reduce fossil fuel consumption.
“How can you have beautiful green spaces, but keep housing affordable? It’s always a big challenge,” said Damyanovic.
People experience climate change differently depending on their gender, age, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Damyanovic noted. People with low incomes, with health problems, from an immigrant background or with a low level of education are particularly dependent on climate-resilient public spaces.
“Women are not inherently more vulnerable than men, but many of these characteristics of vulnerability apply more frequently to them due to structural disadvantages,” Damyanovic said.
“Climate change has profound implications for gender equality and social justice,” she said.
Dixson-Declève agrees that women often bear the brunt of climate change, while also taking leadership in terms of fighting for women’s rights and climate rights.
“It’s reflected in the youth movement today, where you see it’s not just led by Greta [Thunberg], but also by many other young women. said Dixson-Declève.
Dr. Maria Luisa Hernandez Latorre is a Spanish industrial engineer who co-founded Ingelia in 2008, to build industrial plants that recover biomass resources from waste.
Often this includes leftovers from the food and beverage industries, agricultural and forestry residues and organic waste. Plants scavenge chemicals such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. One of the by-products is nutrient-rich water that can be used by local farmers as fertilizer.
In Hernandez Latorre’s industrial engineering course at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, women were rare. The same is true when she began her career as an engineer.
“Most of the places I worked I was alone, or maybe with another woman, plus 60 (men),” she said. She points out that technical training is very important in the industry.
“Look at who’s running the businesses, whether big or small,” she said. “Most of them have a technical degree.”
According to Eurostatrenewables accounted for 37% of gross electricity consumption in 2020, up from 34% in 2019. Greening fuel supply is a major ambition for Europe.
Solar power is the fastest growing sector, but it still has room to grow beyond the 14% share it provided in 2020.
“Italy is a sunny place, and we should have more solar cells on our buildings,” said Dr Alessandra Giannuzzi, an Italian physicist who conducted research on the technology at the University of Bologna in Italy.
She started her career with an interest in astrophysics. After her studies, however, she devoted herself to the practical problems of energy and the environment, applying the knowledge of optics in astronomy to solar concentrators.
They are mirror-like devices that focus sunlight onto a receiver that uses solar energy to generate electricity. “There are technological similarities between ground-based telescopes and certain types of solar concentrators,” Giannuzzi said.
She says part of the problem with the lack of women in physics is societal attitudes, including from women themselves.
“A lot of people said to me, ‘Oh, you studied physics, but you’re a woman. No, I couldn’t do that. It’s too complicated,” said Giannuzzi. “But it’s a mental block. It’s about intelligence and mental abilities, and we’re the same in that sense.
As part of its commitment to promote gender equality in research and innovation, the EU launched last year Women TechEU supporting 50 women-led tech start-ups with a budget of €3.8 million.
“Women are great innovators. We really need to integrate women at all levels of business,” said Hernandez Latorre. The absence of women in technical projects and on boards of directors has negative repercussions on companies.
Women can play a key role in “helping corporate management bodies think outside the box, promote innovation and implement new ways of managing”, she said.
“On the energy transition, our point of view is that women can bring a huge change”, said Ioannis Konstas, project manager for W4RES.
The aim of the project is to develop the role of women in the renewable heating and cooling market across Europe, through technical and commercial support. It also collects key data on women’s participation in the industry.
The role of women in the energy sector is growing to become “an entrepreneur, (a) person who wants to pursue a career in the technology sector and make a meaningful change”, he said.
Inclusiveness is no longer a luxury either, widespread acceptance of rapid change is essential. Recent events underscore the feeling that “we have an elephant in the room,” Konstas said. The lack of women playing key roles in the renewable energy sector is unsustainable.
The traditional for-profit management model in the sector ignores other considerations. “Women tend to be more open-minded, more inclusive in their approach,” Konstas said.
Ms Dixson-Declève noted that although “gender equality is not at the level it should be, it is improving”.
She added that a more feminine holistic approach to the European economy, by men and women, is needed to move away from power games and towards values that matter, such as the environment, care health, education and welfare.
A new study recently launched by the European Commission aims to assess the participation of women in the field of green energy transition. It will help identify ways to increase the role of women in the sector. Led by the Directorate General for Research and Innovation, the study will also aim to identify ways to meet the demand for new skills in the energy sector.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally publishedin Skylinethe European magazine for research and innovation.