Energy revolution cannot happen without women. This interview is published as part of a campaign launched by the Women in Energy Association (WONY).
Zsófia Beck, Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) speaks about the post-pandemic energy sector in light of the accelerating energy transition and the challenges of preserving stability and flexibility in a decarbonised energy system while explaining how the CEE region should prepare for the future ahead. She also speaks about the report prepared by BCG and WONY mapping the diversity of the sector in CEE and sets out some useful bits of advice on how the principle could be applied in practice.
Although the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic are still unfolding we can already see some trends that will shape the future of the energy sector. Do you think that the pandemic will alter the pace of the energy transition that started already before the global virus outbreak?
This was such an interesting question a year ago that we even organised a debate among our global experts about which direction the pandemic is pushing energy transition: will it speed it up or slow it down? Back then there were several factors to argue for either of those. By now, it’s pretty clear, fortunately: energy transition has gained speed due to the pandemic.
In line with the EU’s climate goals, the structure of energy demand should fundamentally shift, with a declining role for fossil fuels offset by an increasing share for renewable energy and a growing role for electricity. How did the pandemic impact this trend?
The EU’s climate goals recently became even more ambitious with the new, 55 per cent target and also more achievable through the RRF’s (Recovery and Resilience Facility) about 250 billion euro budget for climate-related spending.
At the same time, financing energy companies with a significant coal-based generation portfolio became harder as several major financial institutions (including ING, UniCredit, BNP and so on) have stopped cooperating with companies with above certain percentage of coal and/or mining in their generation portfolio by 2025/2030.
Furthermore, sustainability is becoming more and more important here in Central and Eastern Europe as well and not only for energy companies but also for their B2B customers and soon for next-generation employees and B2C customers.
We at BCG feel that wave too: we’re working more and more on decarbonisation plans, abatement curves, broader ESG-related topics and also on strategies for countries and large utilities on how to ensure the security of supply, increase the flexibility of the system and at the same time how to generate more EBITDA.
BCG has already made its commitment to net zero emissions by 2030 and secured 400 million US dollars to enable BCG teams to drive climate impact in the next decade. We have also established Climate and Sustainability, a separate, global business line, and have global programs for consultants who want to dedicate themselves for a whole year to sustainability-related projects all over the world.
Here’s an interesting TED Talk from one of our global experts on the topic worth watching, 11 minutes and pretty entertaining.
What should we look out for in 2021? What are the main challenges and opportunities ahead of the Europan energy market?
Unfortunately, the year 2021 will still be dominated by issues related to the pandemic: how to keep ourselves, our families and our employees safe, how to speed up vaccination, how to ensure the stability of our critical infrastructures – as electricity is one of the cornerstones of our new world (with homeschooling, work from home and so on) – the security of supply is key.
Speaking of which, with decarbonisation, we are decommissioning baseload power plants, while with increasing RES (Renewable Energy Sources) and without flexible generation sources/storage solutions in the system we’re increasing instability.
Therefore, in the long run, we in CEE are betting on a combination of nuclear, RES and gas, while following the technology development trends on battery, hydrogen and CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage) technologies.
So already in 2021, we in CEE need to be mindful of:
- The timing of our coal phase-out decisions (also dependent on CO2 price developments);
- Having clear decarbonisation strategies (including how to generate the missing electricity and heat; how to secure people’s jobs in the dirty parts of the sector; how to stabilise a system full of RES and so on);
- Making the best investment decisions on building new flexible capacities, invest in new technologies/pilots etc.;
- Prepare the best regulatory framework for the investments needed (be it RES support scheme and its phase-out, potential capacity market, network investments and related tariff setting, or the promotion of digital customer interactions and energy efficiency);
- Keep the digitalisation momentum and try not to push back customers to the old channels.
How do you see the role of women shaping the future of the energy industry and the role of the Women in Energy Association in closing this gender gap in the energy industry?
In recent years we read several studies on how diverse teams perform better, but acknowledging that is only step zero in my view. We also did our research, in cooperation with WONY, focusing on the CEE energy sector and found that on average women account for 26 per cent of those employed in the sector and not only there are not enough ladies at the bottom of the career ladder but only a very few make it through to managerial or board positions. We also found several good examples within and outside of the CEE-SEE region for how to increase those numbers at all levels (attracting more female talents, keeping and promoting them towards the top). If you’re interested, here you can read the study.
We at BCG are facing similar challenges and trying to tackle the issue head-on, we are aiming globally at hiring at least 40 per cent female consultants – and I have to admit it’s not easy, but even in CEE, we managed to meet our target in 2020 without compromising on quality.
More emphasis from investors and therefore from energy companies on ESG is also helping a lot – as this topic is considered in both the Social and Governance legs.
So girls, ladies, the opportunity is there, the pull from the market is coming, the potential impact of our work is inevitable, so what to wait for?
If you can give one piece of advice for women who want to make their career in the energy field, what would that be?
Do not shy away! It is indeed still a male-dominated sector, therefore, it may even be frightening in the beginning, but it is changing. And where to have a more impactful career today than in the energy sector?