Accelerating the Transition to Renewable Energy

22 Dec, 2021

Ulf Gissel is a Senior Consultant at Hager Unternehmensberatung. He exudes passion for renewable energy and is committed to improving diversity in the rapidly developing field. He explains how women can help transform the traditional energy industry and emphasizes the importance of potential and social skills over experience

You've been working in the energy industry for quite some time now. It sounds like a rather dry subject, or at least it was until a few years ago. What attracted you to this field?

My first involvement with renewable energy was in the field of water management. I really immersed myself in the subject when I moved to HR consulting in 2018, and by then, I had learned about the topic in all its complexity. It's not just about energy generation, but also about energy trading, distribution, sales, and even the energy services business. In renewable energy especially, there are many innovative companies with interesting business models that are leading the way for the energy systems of the future. My passion for this field has been burning ever since. I am committed to accelerating the transition to renewable energy by bringing together the people in the industry who belong together.

Were you surprised by how polarized the topic of renewable energy was?

No, it didn't surprise me. After all, it was one of the big election campaign issues. And at a regional level, it had always been the subject of controversial discussions. Take wind turbines for example, there are emotional debates between supporters and critics, who complain that wind turbines spoil the landscape. In my opinion, education is what’s needed here. You have to convince people of the benefits to create acceptance. What I've noticed from trade shows is that the entire industry is calling for a huge commitment from the new government. In the last legislative period, great goals were set, but with rather sobering implementation. I believe the industry is ready to tackle the challenges and achieve a consistent expansion of renewables.

Significant change always requires a change of mindset and plurality. But the energy industry in particular is still not very diverse.

Yes, that's true. The conventional energy industry is still old, white, and male, to put it bluntly. This is not prejudice, but a reality in many German companies. And it’s not just in the energy sector either. Only around 16 percent of all companies in Germany are headed up by women, and the proportion of women on DAX boards is 17.8 percent. So, there is clearly still a need for change. There are very few women in the energy industry, especially in the technical sector. Even companies that proactively try to promote women and move them into management positions face the challenge that there is hardly any choice. This is certainly also due to the management environment. Many companies cannot imagine a manager working part-time. In this respect, other industries are already further ahead and have shown what is possible.

To what extent is change discernible in the newer companies? How does this relate to higher proportions of women?

You can already see a significant change and more openness in companies in the renewable energy sector. Nevertheless, there is still the problem that there are not enough female experts in the field. That's why I'm particularly pleased that some amazing initiatives are emerging here. Since 2019, I have been supporting w.one, which stands for "Women of New Energy." This is an ambitious network that connects women in the renewable energy industry. It offers support for professional and personal development, for example in the form of mentoring programs for women starting their careers and women in leadership positions. What I like about the network is the open and respectful way it deals with issues - but above all its courage to implement them. In my opinion, we would benefit enormously if we had more diversity. Women and men are not competitors, but partners on this exciting journey towards equal opportunity. Men, in particular, need to learn this.

How can we do that?

By taking them to events like this, for example. The first time I was a guest, there were about sixty women in the room. There were also a few men, but I was the only one on stage. And then you realize very quickly that gender doesn't matter at all if you have a common theme, a common mission. Many people have never had such an experience, and you must expose them to it. That's what I want to work towards, so that at some point it's no longer an issue. Equally, companies should better support women and convince them that they can also advance their careers. Employers can’t wait until someone applies or a woman approaches them; they must be proactive. The reverse is also true for women. They should be more self-confident and demand more. Closing this gender gap is crucial because women are the drivers of innovative, interactive, or integrative solutions, especially in renewable energy. For the transition to renewable energy to succeed, we need more participation from a diverse talent pool. One positive in this regard is the younger generation. They deal with these issues in a completely different way. This is where companies need to start: performance, not individual character, should determine career opportunities.

Let's talk about technology. What do you think are the most important drivers at the moment?

We are living in exciting times! Through artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT, knowledge is growing exponentially. If you look at human history, a huge amount has changed in a very short period, turning everything upside down that was thought to be true. For example, 2019 was the first year that energy demand increased while fossil fuel power generation decreased. It was the first year in which nuclear and renewables combined to generate as much electricity globally as coal-fired power plants. There's a lot going on, and there are very interesting trends. For example, the expansion of zero-emission hydrogen and ammonia as alternatives to electrification. As for electrification, this in combination with sector coupling for a flexible energy system is one of the biggest innovations. Integrated power-to-heat concepts for industry or even the conversion of wind and solar into hydrogen or methane, i.e., power-to-gas or power-to-liquids. And ultimately, increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy demand is also an important concept. In other words, everyone can play a part in this. If you think about how much electricity is used for nonsense, you can make massive savings.

What does all this mean for recruiting? What exciting jobs are emerging in the industry? What skills are in demand?

I won’t go into specific job profiles at all, as that's constantly changing. What is much more important than any job title from my point of view is that we need to make potential measurable, instead of looking purely at experience and recruiting based on that. That's why social skills are more important than ever. We should start with children in school, not educating them to be competitors or machines. The machine will always provide the faster computing power. We have already lost that race. Instead, we should strengthen children’s teamwork, empathy, and creativity skills - basically everything that has significantly advanced our human development. That's why social competence will be the most important factor in the coming years, regardless of the specific position or hierarchical level. Apart from that, there are many exciting topics ahead of us. What will the workplace of tomorrow look like? One hint: Meta. Will we slip into our avatar in the morning, go shopping as it, and then go to the office digitally? We're facing issues that we've never had to deal with before and we'll have to address that.

This article is part of a content cooperation between FemaleOneZero (F10) and Hager Unternehmensberatung. The company, which specializes in executive search, has repeatedly been named one of the best personnel consultancies in Germany by the magazines WirtschaftsWoche and Focus. Hager Unternehmensberatung employs around 110 people and, in addition to its extensive know-how in the field of digitalization, is also considered a specialist in issues relating to diversity and innovation.

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