BY JULIA BROICH
Decentralized renewable energy harbours huge democratic potential: giving people back the power over their own energy supply. But who are the people?
The energy transition has a diversity problem. Traditionally, the energy sector has been dominated by men, and it becomes increasingly clear that the sector has not yet shed the many barriers that prevent gender parity and inclusion. Leaders and decision-makers are still predominantly male. Strategies for our energy future are decided based on data that set men as the norm. In the publication Women.Energy.Transition! the non-profit association Women Engage For A Common Future (WECF) shows why this male bias is a problem.
One reason is that women have different energy needs than men, which are partly due to their role in society. For example, women do the majority of all care work which is often energy intensive. If women’s needs are not included in working out society’s energy strategy, their needs – which are, after all, the needs of over half the population – are in danger of not being taken into account. This is one of the main reasons a more diverse group of decision makers has proven to make better and more balanced decisions, as more needs of the different groups in society are included. Another reason to include women is that women are highly active in environmental movements and natural allies of the energy transition. Women consider sustainable policies, resource conservation, and addressing the climate crisis more important by comparison. In contrast, the political discourse that often portrays the energy transition as a technocratic rather than a social project bypasses many women. Although the renewable energy sector is clearly ahead of the fossil energy industry in terms of diversity, it also shows patterns that are familiar from other sectors of the economy: Women work mainly in lower-paid jobs, few sit in executive suites or do technical jobs (Global renewable Outlook in 2020 – women in renewable energies, IRENA).
Women are also significantly underrepresented in community energy projects, as shown by an ongoing study by WWEA (see interview in this issue/study). But their findings also show that more women are active in community energy than in commercial projects. Women are moving into renewables and a low threshold of entrance might just nudge them into action. Already, more and more women around the world are taking their energy future into their own hands. In Africa we find solar energy start-ups such as Solar sisters which support women to become renewable energy pioneers and (em-)power their communities. The same goes for micro-grid projects all over the world – some of which are led by women such as the micro-grid girls in Yemen (see previous issue). Women are often the main users of energy in their household, especially in developing countries. According to a report by IRENA, engaging women as active agents in the deployment of off-grid renewable energy solutions improves sustainability and maximizes socioeconomic benefits. Meanwhile, women in Sweden founded their own women-only energy community Qvinnovindar which bought shares in a wind energy project close to their town. The collective argues that women need a space to take part, a space where they are not pushed to the side lines. When men approach them about joining, they offer them advice in setting up their own collective but stand firm by the female space they created.
The energy transition is and has always been a citizen’s project. Currently, due to structural barriers and a technocratic image, less women see the energy transition as a primary goal and solution for the climate crisis than men. But women are important stakeholders who might wholeheartedly support the energy transition if given the chance. Together, we may create community energy in every sense of the word.
Julia Broich was research associate and project manager at EUROSOLAR and part of the editorial team of EUROSOLAR TIMES.