Women make up about a third of U.S. wind and solar energy jobs, higher than other technology fields.
ENERGY NEWS -- Sarah Fischer’s journey into the renewable energy field began with a high school French teacher whose husband had been a child slave in Haiti. The couple opened Fischer’s eyes to human rights and international development issues and sparked a desire to make a difference in such situations.
The more she learned about the role of deforestation and natural resource exploitation in creating poverty, the more she became interested in sustainability and renewable energy as ways to address injustice.
Fischer, who recently graduated summa cum laude from Ohio State University with a degree in sustainability economics and business, hopes to work in renewable energy policy, first in the U.S. and eventually related to international development.
She is among a cohort of young women whom an organization called WRISE(Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy) hopes will increase representation of women in the wind energy field. Fischer was among 11 women who received two different fellowships to attend last month’s annual WINDPOWER conference in Chicago.
Fischer was among the Rudd Mayer fellows (named for a Colorado sustainability campaigner who passed away suddenly in 2002) who are considering a range of policy and other jobs in renewable energy. WRISE’s Wind at Our Backs scholars, meanwhile, are entering wind technology specifically, and received $2,500 scholarships along with attending the conference.
The Wind at Our Backs fellows includes Ashley Hobbs, who became interested in wind energy seeing wind turbines along the drive to her high school in Arnett, Oklahoma.
“I always wanted to know how they worked,” she said.
For seven years, Hobbs worked in another heavily male-dominated field: as a corrections officer and dispatcher in the corrections system.
Then Hobbs completed an advanced wind turbine technician certificate at the High Plains Technology Center in Oklahoma, and she recently accepted a job with GE that will see her not only knowing how wind turbines work, but helping them do so. She’s done all this while also raising two girls as a single mother.
“My goals in wind energy are to work my way up over the next several years, as in lead tech and even site lead,” Hobbs said. “Wind is crucial for our future when it comes to clean energy and power. Sustainability is the biggest factor to me in wind energy; wind will always be here.”
Numbers growing, slowly
Kristen Graf entered the renewable energy field herself about 16 years ago. In college, she was “stunned” to see how few women were in her engineering classes, and that trend only continued once she entered the renewable energy technology and policy world. So after a stint with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Graf took the opportunity to become executive director of WRISE, previously called Women in Wind Energy (WoWE), to try to change that disparity.
“There were tons of women in my high school calculus classes, but they didn’t appear in the college programs to the same extent,” said Graf. “There are lots of women in nonprofits, but not as many in the policy space making decisions on the energy side. And you look at public utility commissions, energy committees in Congress; I’d like to see more women there.”
A 2017 Department of Energy employment report found that women make up 32 percent of the wind industry workforce, which it found had a total 102,000 jobs. Women also made up 32 percent of the solar energy workforce. Those numbers are higher than some other tech industries; one recent report found women hold less than 20 percent of U.S. tech jobs overall.
The current numbers of women in wind could be seen as an improvement from five years ago when another study showed only about 20 to 25 percent of wind industry jobs were held by women.
Graf said that various studies or ways of looking at employment data have placed women at 20 to 30 percent of the wind workforce over the past decade, with small gains likely made in recent years.
“I’m optimistic this small increase we’ve seen will be something that continues,” she said. “For me it needs to be across the entire sector and every level of that sector, whether entry-level technicians, the manufacturing floor, C-suites, and boards. Some of those roles — admin, paralegal, marketing — are much further ahead in terms of having significant numbers of women in them. It’s the edges, the C-suite, the boardroom, the more technical roles, the highly financial roles that have struggled to get numbers of women.”
The DOE report found similar proportions of women in other energy fields including biofuels, coal and combined heat and power. Energy efficiency and petroleum fuels each had about a quarter of jobs filled by women. Racial and ethnic minority women are likely even more under-represented, though Graf said there is no comprehensive data that looks at renewable energy jobs by both gender and race. When race alone was considered, the DOE report found Latinos to make up about 20 percent of the workforce and African Americans to make up about 10 percent, in a number of renewable energy sectors.
Futures in Renewable Energy
During college, Fischer, 22, interned with nonprofits including the Ohio Environmental Council, Clean Fuels Ohio and the Electrification Coalition. She focused for a while on electric vehicles.
“Electric vehicles are great and more efficient, but Ohio runs mostly on coal power, so electric vehicles aren’t emissions free unless you can promote renewable energy and make sure electricity comes from those sources,” she noted.
She recently began a new job with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility, and she plans to later go to graduate school focused on energy policy. While small-scale solar arrays are increasingly being used to improve the lives of people in developing countries, Fischer imagines wind power could also have a bigger role.
“In the U.S. we developed through this incredible push for industrialization and fossil fuels, and it had all kinds of impacts on our environment,” she said. “We eventually cut back our impacts but something we need to focus on when looking at other countries developing is finding a way they can skip that [fossil fuel stage] and go straight to green renewable energy.”
While she is emphatic that the U.S. “should not be telling other countries what to do,” she’d like to be part of such efforts.
“We’ve seen oil pipelines and coal plants being developed on an industrial scale in developing countries, so I can’t see why we can’t develop wind there.”
Hobbs, meanwhile, plans to later get her associate’s degree, thanks in part to the Wind at Our Backs fellowship, and continue working in wind energy.
“There’s always a need for women in male-dominated fields such as wind energy,” she said. “All industries need equality for women. Every woman has to prove ourselves to the men in the industry. We have to show them that we can keep up with them and can do the same work that men can do.”
Even as employers — especially larger corporations that make up the bulk of the wind industry — make commitments to hire more women, “hiring managers appear baffled on how to meet this challenge, often citing a lack of qualified female candidates for positions,” Graf wrote on WRISE’s website.
WRISE has an initiative called “Find Her Keep Her: Recruiting and Retaining Women across Renewable Energy” that is aimed at showing corporations how to bring women into their workforce, also highlighting the stories of women in renewable energy.
WRISE notes that mentoring, developing leadership pipelines, transparency around salary, flexibility in schedule and other specific policies can help bring more women into the industry. WRISE also runs its own one-on-one and peer group mentoring programs, along with the fellowships.
“It’s exciting to me to be able to help open at least a few doors for them,” Graf said of the Fellows. “And it’s incumbent on the industry as a whole to make sure they have the opportunities they need to flourish and grow and become an integrated part of the sector.”
“The success of the sector is reliant on us doing a good job not just on gender but in all different aspects of race, ethnicity, ability, geography, background,” she continued. “We can’t just have all the same people talking around the same ideas all the time, or we’re not going to make the type of progress we want to make.”
The government of South Australia, which changed hands after an election this March, just announced that it would move forward with the previous regime’s agreement with Tesla to install solar panels on 1,100 houses, according to ABC. The original deal – to create what’s being called the world’s largest virtual power plant
ABC – was first struck in February between Tesla and South Australia’s then-dominant Labor Party. But when Steven Marshall of the Liberal Party was elected Premier of South Australia, it was unclear if the government would honor that agreement, or move forward with the Liberal Party’s own plan to subsidize 40 thousand home battery units to bring renewable energy to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
In good news for clean energy innovation, the government decided to do both.
The Tesla plan, funded by a two million dollar grant and 30 million dollar loan from the Australian state’s government, could scale up to 50 thousand solar-powered home batteries if the earlier stages are successful. In addition to the Liberal Party’s own 100 million dollar program — which would subsidize about 2,500 dollars of installation costs per household — this means that South Australia may have a grid of some 90 thousand solar-powered homes within the next few years.
If everything goes as planned this could make South Australia a world leader. It could also be a major proving ground, not just for renewable energy, but also for decentralized “virtual” power plants – a new type of energy infrastructure that’s gained some popular traction lately.
Right now, almost all of our electricity is generated in real time by power plants that produce enough power to meet demand, but can’t really store any extra for later. A distributed network of home-based generators hooked up to batteries would, advocates argue, be able to provide for the energy needs of that community without putting extra demand on the power plants in that area. And doing so with a network of solar panels hooked up to battery units would let them do so without any greenhouse gas emissions, aside from those given off while producing the solar panels themselves.
The network of batteries would help the community stay powered even in spite of that annoying, anti-solar talking point “lol what happens if its cloudy,” and would also help distribute energy if one house needs (or produces) a little extra power.
There’s a lot that needs to happen before South Australia gets off the grid and starts powering itself with Tesla’s solar cells, but the government’s continued support for low-cost renewable energy is a good sign for the environment and a future increasingly powered by clean energy.
Google’s solar mapping tool Project Sunroof, which uses Google Maps’ satellite imaging software to gauge the suitability of individual homes for solar panels, is now available in the UK. ‘Project Sunroof’ was first launched in the US in 2015, originally covering Boston and San Francisco Bay before being rolled out to include tens of millions of homes across the country. It also launched in Germany earlier this year.
TECHRADAR -- Now Google has partnered with UK energy supplier E.ON to bring the online tool to the UK. Homeowners visiting the E.ON website are able to diagnose the suitability of their roof for panel installation, based on the roof’s size, pitch, and nearby obstacles such as other buildings or trees that could block sunlight.
Can your gadgets really live off solar power alone?
In one or two minutes you can be looking at a cross section of your roof tagged with your estimated ‘solar yield’ per year, and the predicted costs for standalone panels or those with in-built battery storage.
All your friends are doing it.
For an accurate quote, users are asked to input the number of residents in their home, as well as their average power usage and peak usage periods in the day. The mapping service can also show you which buildings nearby already have solar panels installed – possibly to prod your sense of social obligation.
Unsurprisingly, E.ON is unable to install panels on rented properties, though you’re still able to get a quote for your home if you’re curious.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES WILL GROW FROM 3 MILLION TO 125 MILLION BY 2030, INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY FORECASTS
The number of electric vehicles on the road around the world will hit 125 million by 2030, the International Energy Agency forecasts. The world's fleet of electric vehicles grew 54 percent to about 3.1 million in 2017. The IEA says government policy will continue to be the linchpin for electric vehicle adoption.
CNBC -- There will be enough electric cars on the road for roughly every person in Japan — the world's 11th most populous country — in just more than two decades, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Electric vehicle (EV) ownership will balloon to about 125 million by 2030, spurred by policies that encourage drivers, fleets and municipalities to purchase clean-running cars, the policy advisor to energy-consuming nations forecast on Wednesday.
That marks a big jump from 2017, when the IEA estimated there were 3.1 million electric vehicles in use, up 54 percent from the previous year.
IEA's 22-year outlook still leaves plenty of room for fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Forecasts put the world's total car count at roughly 2 billion somewhere in the 2035 to 2040 window.
However, the IEA also sees a pathway to 220 million electric vehicles by 2030, provided the world takes a more aggressive approach to fighting climate change and cutting emissions than currently planned.
While battery costs are falling, the IEA acknowledges that government policy remains critical to making EVs attractive to drivers, spurring investment and helping carmakers achieve economies of scale.
"The uptake of electric vehicles is still largely driven by the policy environment," the IEA said in the report. "The 10 leading countries in electric vehicle adoption all have a range of policies in place to promote the uptake of electric cars."
Policies in place today will make China and Europe the biggest adopters, in the IEA's view. In China, credits and subsidies will help EVs grow to account for more than a quarter of the car market by 2030. Meanwhile, tightening emissions standards and high fuel taxes in Europe will boost the vehicles to 23 percent of the market.
As for the United States, the IEA sees electric vehicle deployment growing at two speeds. While it sees "rapid market penetration" in places like California and other states with zero emissions plans, relatively low taxes on fuels and the Trump administration's intentions to scale back vehicle emissions standards could hold back growth.
China is already becoming a behemoth in the space. New electric car sales surged by 72 percent, or 580,000 units, in 2017, pushing total ownership over 1 million vehicles. The country is also driving growth in electric buses and two-wheeled vehicles, accounting for about 99 percent of the world's stock of the fast-growing categories.
Still, Germany and Japan posted the biggest electric vehicle growth in 2017, with electric vehicle sales more than doubling from 2016.
There are also regional differences when it comes to the type of electric vehicles consumers are gravitating towards. The IEA measured the strongest orientation to pure battery electric vehicles in China, France and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Japan, Sweden and the United Kingdom have the highest share of plug-in hybrid cars.
Norway remains the leader when it comes to market share. Electric vehicles accounted for 39 percent of Norway's new car sales last year, and 6.4 percent of the country's cars are powered by electricity. That makes Norway the leader in both categories.
But in another sign of the importance of policy, Norway is the only member of the IEA's Electric Vehicles Initiative that saw annual sales volume and market share fall between 2013 and 2017. The IEA chalks up those declines to a change in the way the tax system treats private use of company cars and the end of tax incentives last year for plug-in hybrids.
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