As a longtime member and supporter of the Women’s Energy Network(WEN), three representatives from our Energy & Utilities practiceattended the WEN 2019 National Conference. The theme of the conference focused on how women can use their perseverance, energy, boldness, and unique aspects to shape the future of an industry on the cusp of significant change. Panelists and speakers discussed how new technologies, evolving policies and financial mechanisms, and the influx of younger and more diverse workers will have on an industry pressured to meet the evolving expectations of how the world produces and uses energy.
Three key topics stood out during the conference: blockchain, energy storage, and cybersecurity.
Blockchain is creating a huge buzz throughout the economy, transforming business models in all sectors, and the energy industry is no exception. The panel focused on enabling peer to peer distributed energy trading, and the ability to disrupt the traditional model requiring all transactions to pass through the utility. Discussions covered current projects, future applications, privacy and record retention issues, and regulatory hurdles that may slow the technology’s adoption.
During energy storage sessions, panelists explained how battery storage is not a disruptive technology, it is an enabler. Benefits include grid flexibility, energy efficiency, savings potential, and resiliency. One main point discussed was FERC order 841 and how it has opened the doors for energy storage, allowing an increase in market participation. Order 841 is just the beginning, there is more work needed to be completed to understand and further explore market interactions. The session closed with a discussion on regulatory and environmental challenges including coupled solar-storage tax incentives and end-of-life disposal.
In recent years, many large and established companies such as Facebook and Experian have become victims of data breaches. Panelists discussed how energy companies can set up cybersecurity protocols, controls, and audits to better protect customer data. The major takeaway was the need for a cultural change within energy companies to understand that cybersecurity is not just an IT problem, it is a business problem that needs support from top executives. There were many other technology focused discussions throughout the conference, providing us with the skills and knowledge to help our clients navigate the changing technology landscape of the energy industry.
Women make up 47% of the workforce and earn 60% of undergraduate and graduate degrees, however, only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. The energy industry is undergoing a significant labor challenge with 40% of the workforce retiring in the next 5 years and the talent pool to replace them is younger, more diverse, and includes significantly more women than in in the past. However, few of these women are getting promoted to management positions. Panelists discussed how unconscious biases by male leaders can hold women back from achieving their full potential. One particularly meaningful point panelist Lisa Runyon of Philadelphia Energy Solutions made was by not promoting women to Vice President or Director levels, you are alienating 50% of your workforce who may not believe this is a future for them at a company with no other female leaders. Panelists also discussed ways that women can advocate for themselves and use male colleagues and superiors as allies.
There is the never-ending question, does work-life balance truly exist? The panelists tackled this question by sharing stories on their personal challenges and successes. The main themes that arose from their stories included setting boundaries, creating a great support system, stop thinking about what we cannot control, stress is proportional to what we perceive is stressful, and begin believing that not everything has to be perfect, even if it is in our nature to be. The panelists explained how the goal is not about balancing your work and life, as on a seesaw, but stacking our core building blocks together to create a strong foundation that will lead you to success.
To end the conference, keynote speaker Sandy Asch spoke about how women can influence change. She challenged all the women to find not only a seat at the table, but to find their voice. The journey to “ROAR SRONGER” is to be more resilient and thrive in this demanding world. She explained to be bold and influence change you must:
The theme of the conference, Perseverance – Be Energized, Be Bold, Be True, was woven in throughout every aspect of the conference. The new relationships, perspective, and knowledge we gained helps us better serve our clients as they navigate the rapidly changing landscape of the energy industry.
West Monroe Partners