Globally, the energy sector has been dominated by men. Right from the lineman to the CEO of a power utility, it has mostly been a male world. But there is one segment in the energy sector in which the world, including India, is gradually welcoming more women. It is renewable energy.
There’s data to support this as well. Renewable energy employs about 32 percent of women compared to 22 percent in the energy sector overall, according to a report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2019 based on a survey.
“Because of its multi-disciplinary dimension, the renewable energy field exerts an appeal on women that the fossil fuel industry has lacked. The survey revealed that women represent 32 percent of the full-time employees of responding organisations – substantially higher than the 22 percent average in the global oil and gas industry,” it said.
But the same report also found that in renewables, women’s participation is much lower in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs (28 percent) than in administrative jobs (45 percent).
“Perceptions of gender roles are seen as the most important barrier to entry into the sector. These are driven by cultural and social norms that influence many of the fundamental decisions people make,” it stated.
Moneycontrol spoke to some of the leading ladies of India’s clean energy space to get some perspective.
Dr Vibha Dhawan, Director General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), said women are the most affected parties when it comes to energy insecurity and it is imperative that they become bigger stakeholders in the energy transition landscape.
Need for policy empowerment
“We need more policy support to enable their greater participation in energy transitions and to have them in leadership roles. They are a significant part of the labour force of the renewable energy ecosystem, but we need them to be empowered and upskilled to play decision-making roles,” Dhawan said.
“There are still significant gaps when we look at energy transition in the fields of agriculture, MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises), transport, and others and the particular role women need and can play in them. To ensure greater participation and agency for women in India’s energy transition, we need interventions at all levels beginning with policy to empowerment at the grassroots,” Dr Dhawan told Moneycontrol.
Energy transition through a gender lens
Talking of TERI, she said: “As an institution that has been a pioneer in energy transition research and technology development, we at TERI are mindful of the crucial role women play and need to play in the larger energy transition space. We also have researchers specifically looking at energy transitions through the gender lens.”
If we look at just the solar sector in India, which has the highest share in the country’s energy mix, women account for an estimated 11 percent of the workforce in the rooftop solar sector in India, significantly less than the global average of women in the renewables sector, at 32 percent, as per a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) published in 2019. Even so, it is higher than the percentage of women in other energy sectors in India, such as coal, oil and gas companies, and electricity utilities.
“The design and pre-construction phase, and corporate segment – which offer mostly office-based positions – have a relatively high share of female employees at 18 percent and 34 percent, respectively. In the area of construction and commissioning, women constitute 3 percent, and, in operations and maintenance, a mere 1 percent. Both areas involve frequent site visits or onsite work,” stated IEA’s Women working in the rooftop solar sector report.
It is to break this barrier that ReNew, one of India’s largest renewable energy companies by operational capacity, is working on an all-women project site on a pilot basis.
Climate change mitigation
I don't believe that women cannot do work which is site-related. We have an all-women site and it's just a pilot, but we want to do many more of them. Women are doing exceedingly well at that site. We're working in a world where women are doing anything and everything, first of all,” Vaishali Nigam Sinha, Co-founder and Chairperson, Sustainability, at ReNew told Moneycontrol.
“Secondly, when you engage women, there's a lot of ancillary activity which goes on as well. And the role women can play, not only in the headquarters but even in the remote project areas, is sometimes much higher than what men can achieve,” she said.
“The kind of perspective we get from seeing women being hired in Odisha, Gujrat or Rajasthan is incredible and they are so practically related to our daily lives. Look, women are at the heart of the climate change mitigation strategies; and if we don't include them in the discourse, in the conversations at a leadership level, at a management level, at the managerial level, at the site level, then we will not get that entire 360-degree first-person perspective. So I feel it's very important for us to engage women in this journey and we are doing our bit, but a lot more needs to be done,” Sinha said.
Sinha, however, added that the on-site representation of women is also likely to improve in the coming years because of all the digitalisation that is happening in the renewable sector.
Rewriting a myth
Tanya Singhal, co-founder and director of SolarArise, a utility-scale solar company, has been in the sustainability space for the last 15 years. In the past 8 years, she founded and led SolarArise.
“At SolarArise, we have built 7 solar plants totalling half a GW over 1,500 acres of land which powers nearly 250,000 homes and reduces 600,000 tons of CO2 emissions per annum. We deployed over Rs 2,000 crore in capital for these 7 projects. These plants have now been sold to an infrastructure trust listed on the London Stock Exchange and have made multiples for our investors,” she said.
“My journey in solar is re-writing the myth that infrastructure is a man’s world. I did everything from inspecting construction sites in remote Indian villages to wearing hard hats and visiting Chinese module factories. I have taken roles across the value chain and I also encourage my female colleagues to do the same. I have been in boardrooms full of men and yet never felt out of place. I have also been on the government’s industry panel, many times as the only young woman. I feel proud to be the only woman founder of a utility-scale solar power company. Today, the space is wide open across the value chain from strategy, finance, implementation, procurement, construction and operations project development to new age roles like data science with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning),” Singhal told Moneycontrol.
Increasingly, organisations are now finding it difficult to ignore the value of involving women in the renewable energy supply chain. SELCO India, for instance, trained female solar technicians in the early 2000s simply (at least initially) as a means to accomplish its business goals: technicians were needed to enter the homes of customers to repair solar lanterns and cookstoves.
As women become engaged in delivering energy solutions, they take on more active roles in their communities and consequently facilitate a gradual shift in the social and cultural norms that previously acted as barriers to their agency.
In the years to come, as India aims to install 500 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2070, more women will march on to ensure energy security through a clean transition.