Women still remain underrepresented in the energy sector. Rosalie, trainee at Energy Cities, led an exploratory study to analyse if renewable energy communities manage to better integrate gender issues and thereby empower women.
IRENA, (International Renewable Energy Agency) released a study in 2019, which points out the lack of women in the energy sector: they represent only 32% of the workforce for the production of renewable energies and 22% of the oil and gas industry workforce. Thus, women’s share is higher in the renewable sector, but women’s positions are still more administrative than technical (45% of women have administrative positions compared to 28% engineering positions).
Besides, women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to their position as head of households and their lower income (on average). Therefore, they should be fully included in the energy transition. The European Parliament underlined this issue in 2018: “women and girls are the best sources of knowledge of their own circumstances and needs and therefore should be consulted in all issues related to them; recognises that according to the EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality), statistically women are more concerned about climate change); recognises that women as innovators, leaders, organisers, educators and caregivers have throughout centuries found ways in difficult situations to provide and meet the needs of their families, and have huge potential to be innovators for the future as well”. Renewable energy communities offer a sustainable alternative based on the values of equity and local power. In this context, they seem to be a solution to integrate more women in the energy sector. However, this link has to be questioned, as equity is not an easy and automatic process.
This exploratory study compares five renewable energy cooperatives in Europe: Enercoop from France, ZEZ from Croatia, GoiEner from Spain, Jurascic from France and Klimaan from Belgium, all members of REScoop, the European federation of renewable energy cooperatives.. The aim of the study has been to analyse to what extent women can participate in these cooperatives, and what strategies the cooperatives follow to include women’s voices. Even though the analysed cooperatives have the same goal, which is giving back energy sovereignty to citizens, these cooperatives do not work on, nor integrate gender issues in the same way. Gender issues can be included in the decision-making process (with assigned time to speak for instance), in the work policy and in the general communication and actions. Based on interviews conducted with the cooperatives’ representatives and literature research, this study compares and analyses how women are integrated as employees, volunteers, consumers and decision makers. Combining statistic results and qualitative data on how the analysed cooperatives work and take decisions, the study provides an overview of the opportunities provided to women by the cooperatives, and their limits.
The study concludes that renewable energy communities are indeed more women-friendly than the rest of the energy sector, and yet we are still far from parity. They employ more women, but struggle to attract female members, especially vulnerable women. In fact, people with modest incomes remain mostly excluded from the energy cooperatives (as they cannot pay the participation sum), even though they are the most likely to know and formulate their needs and difficulties. Empowerment is implicitly reserved for a category of women, mostly because the majority of women lack time and technical knowledge. The study reveals that energy cooperatives need to include gender issues more in their strategies and in their employment policy. Indeed, the results differ from one cooperative to another depending on its history, its values and its political will to take into consideration the participation of women.
These results can be seen as a chance for renewable energy communities to improve gender equality. Indeed, several studies shared by the NGO Women Equity say for example that the most feminized companies are more successful: “when the number of women in a position of director increases by 10%, the chances of success (compared to other companies) increase by 6%”. Inclusive renewable energy communities can be a tool for empowerment of women and to lead the way towards a fair energy transition.
The study calls for more studies and articles on the subject to tackle gender issues in the energy sector. Empowerment of women is key to implement a sustainable future based on citizens’ power and equal access to clean energy.