Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields have been filled with male workers for centuries. While the female demographic is rising overall, women account for only 25% of the engineering workforce.
The clean energy sector has gained steam in recent years amid growing concerns about climate change. Still, just 32% of renewable energy workers are women, with a mere 25 sitting as board members for the 200 largest utility companies worldwide.
Lagging STEM education, few occupational opportunities and poor career networking are some of the challenges women face in entering the field. Likewise, society’s expectations of women as caregivers are another barrier.
With only 12 years before climate-related damage is irreversible, the transition to clean energy benefits most from gender diversity. Creating more opportunities for women in this male-dominated sector makes saving the planet from an untimely demise feasible.
While female leaders are somewhat hard to come by in renewables, some have proven to be energy trailblazers, paving the way for more women to join. Here are four names everyone should know.
Residing in Kosova, solar energy engineer Gentiana Alija Shala is the only female chief executive among the other dozen-plus solar companies. Since founding Alfa Solar Energy, L.L.C., Shala hired three female engineering staff members to manage various energy projects.
According to Shala, Kosovo — a country still dependent on coal — has been slow to see the value of clean energy. However, that’s because many people misunderstand how solar connects to the grid. Solar panels installed on the Prinzen Municipality Building demonstrated a 2,000-ton reduction in carbon emissions at 30% solar production, with excess power channeled to the electricity grid.
Shala is also co-founder of the Kosovo Women in Engineering and Mining, which was established in 2022 to advocate for gender diversity and opportunities in the field.
Melanie Nakagawa has been the Chief Sustainability Officer at Microsoft since January 2023, entering the role with over two decades of academic and governmental sustainability expertise.
Most recently, Nakagawa served as Special Assistant to President Joe Biden and Senior Director for Climate and Energy on the National Security Council at the White House. She’s also held other climate-related government roles during the Obama-Biden Administration and for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Nakagawa looks forward to Microsoft’s various climate change initiatives, with the company investing $1 billion to achieve its goals of becoming zero emissions, zero waste and water-positive by 2030. According to Nakagawa, there is a great need for renewable storage capacity and innovations for clean power generation at night.
Lynn Jurich is the co-founder and former CEO of solar energy company Sunrun, which provides solar power to residences in 14 states. The company has grown over the last decade, now serving more than 600,000 customers — even as shares dropped by 24% during the second quarter of 2021, prompting Jurich to pass the baton.
Early on, Jurich was one step ahead of her competitors, adopting solar battery storage to capture electricity from residential solar panel systems. Sunrun was one of the first companies to send excess power to the grid for community redistribution, proving essential during natural disasters like California’s wildfires.
Although Jurich no longer runs the show at Sunrun, she serves as executive co-chair of the board of directors, helping Sunrun branch out its partnerships and strategic planning. At the end of the day, Jurich juggles her impressive career in renewable energy and motherhood.
Alexia Cooper, CEO of Bell Solar & Electrical Systems, is a rising star in renewable energy. Making Forbes’ 30 Under 30 – Energy list in 2021, Cooper wants to revolutionize power, especially in construction.
Located in Nevada, Bell Solar primarily hires female engineers and laborers, offering paid apprenticeships and professional development to any woman interested in electrical or solar energy. Cooper herself is on her way to becoming the youngest female in Nevada to hold a C2 Electrical Contractor License.
From 2019 to 2020, Bell Solar grew 416% after successfully expanding its reach to rural areas in the state. Cooper’s goal for Bell Solar is to install a solar panel system in a remote village in Nepal.
Women have made strides in renewable energy, propelling technology and energy advancements for a cleaner world. The more we empower women in engineering, the greater the chances we have for a smooth transition to renewables.