These are exciting, but challenging times across the energy sector. The fall, and sustained depression of the oil price, the impact of shale gas, the development of new technology and the growing significance of renewables and nuclear arguably create a new dynamic in the sector. How will this new dynamic affect women in the sector or be shaped by female forces?
On 18 October we hosted a lively panel discussion with Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive, Renewable Energy Association; Miranda Kirschel MBE, nuclear expert, EY; Anna Eastgate, National Consents Manager, National Grid and Natasha Luther-Jones, Head of Renewables (EMEA) at DLA Piper about the future trends in the energy sector and the role of women in the sector.
The May 2016 PwC report in association with POWERful Women (PfW) found that only 6% of executive board seats and 9% of all board seats in the top 89 UK-headquartered energy companies were occupied by women. However, in power and renewables those figures rise to 15% and 18% respectively. Does this mean that a trend towards renewables might mean a brighter future for women within the sector? And what are oil and gas and nuclear companies doing to catch up?
Our impressive abovementioned panel are testament to the increasing role of women within the energy sector.
National Grid, the company that owns and manages the UK's power grid, is a shining example of an organisation investing in recruiting, developing, promoting and retaining women. Take, for example, Cordi O'Hara Director, UK System Operator at National Grid, who is the first female director responsible for the security of energy supply in the UK. National Grid's recent publication, The 'Remarkable' women of National Grid profiles and celebrates female role models, showcasing the achievements and talents of remarkable women at National Grid. Read it and share it to play your part in supporting National Grid's positive role models.
With Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG appointed as Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property as part of the newly formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) earlier this year, the rise of women in the energy sector is set to be a continuing theme. With a multiplicity of board roles at large corporates including Tesco, ITV, PwC and Metro AG, she is clearly not only a successful career woman, but along with Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will help to bridge the gap between government's energy and climate change policy and the role of business.
Indeed we are already seeing big business starting to forge their way in the development of the sector, with the rise of the corporate green agenda and the likes of Google increasingly providing financial viability for renewable energy projects through PPAs. Find out more about renewable energy and corporate PPAs in our paper.
Whilst the UK steadily creeps towards its 2030 renewable energy targets, the focus is to create a balanced and reliable energy mix. Following the UK government's approval of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in September, it is likely that nuclear will begin to play a more central role in that mix. The government is starting to take an interest in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), providing an alternative variation on the nuclear theme: a smaller, cheaper, simpler, and easier to build nuclear option, which could potentially bridge the gap between the fluctuating power produced by renewables and the need for a constant baseline supply, being easily and quickly scalable.
However, with a dearth of women in the nuclear sector, how can the sector reach out to the population as a whole to change public perceptions to nuclear as part of a low-carbon future? Organisations such as Women in Nuclear (set up by panellist Miranda Kirschel) are working to change this dynamic. Time will tell if these and other initiatives including POWERful Women and WISE (both also represented on the panel) will be effective in ensuring better female representation in the sector as this new dynamic unfolds.