July 28, 2011, Clean energy is one of the most
dynamic sectors in the world - hot start-ups, technological
whizbangery, cutthroat competition, billions in venture-capital
investments, a race against the climate clock.
But there's one aspect of the clean-energy field that's just as
slow to evolve as the world of fossil fuels: patriarchy.
Men invented, engineered, invested in, and presided over the
technologies and companies that made oil, coal, and natural gas the
dominant fuels of our time.
And now men appear to be running the show at most of the firms
pushing renewables, efficiency, clean cars, and the smart grid.
(The Wall Street Journal's recent list of the top ten cleantech enterprises, for
instance, is essentially a men's club.)
Look a little closer, though, and you see that women are
gradually, quietly permeating clean-energy industries. Some are
engineering new technologies. Some are climbing the ranks in big
companies. Some are investing tens of millions in start-ups, or
founding their own. Women are still a small minority in this
sector, to be sure, but there's good reason to believe that they
will play ever greater and more influential roles in the
fast-evolving cleantech sector than they ever have in fossil
I explore the trend in depth in "Dudefest No More? Women are Infiltrating Clean
Tech" on Grist.org. For one thing, women are getting
better technical and science education, and they're seeking more
meaning and social responsibility in their work.
They're also well-suited to the cleantech sector because it
requires cooperation. Virtually every emerging "green" technology -
solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, smart grid, green homes,
electric cars - is part of a dynamic network of solutions; one
alone can't serve all of our energy needs, but together they create
a synergistic whole.
"Women are hardwired to cooperate, to be interconnected," says
Denise Bode, former president of the Independent Petroleum
Association of America and now CEO of the American Wind Energy
Association. "Maybe it's a lack of ego, maybe it's an inherent
wisdom that we can achieve more together than we can alone, but in
general, women tend to work well as a team."
There's still a long way to go before women hold an equal share
of leadership positions in new energy companies, but a promising
trend is emerging. Meet 12 of the most savvy and accomplished
women of cleantech:
Lynn Jurich, founder and president of SunRun. Her
company installs $1 million worth of solar equipment each
day and now commands 10 percent of the residential solar
Christina Lampe-Önnerud, founder and CEO of Boston
Power. With $191 million in
funding, Lampe-Önnerud's team has redesigned the nuts and
bolts of lithium-ion batteries, from the structure of the cells to
patterns of energy flow.
Marianne Wu, partner at Mohr Davidow
Ventures. Last year, Wu guided tens of millions into
solar, biofuels, green chemicals, gasified coal, energy efficiency,
and smart grid.
Laura Ipsen, senior VP and general
manager of smart grid technology at Cisco Systems, Inc [CSCO]. Her challenge,
as she describes it is "putting intelligent devices - billions and
trillions of sensors everywhere - at every point in the grid, from
generation and distribution all the way into buildings."
Martha Wyrsch, president of Vestas Americas [
VWS.CO]. Wyrsch now oversees 50 North American facilities
for the world's biggest producer of wind turbines, which has
created more than 2,000 new jobs in the United States since
Eugenia Corrales executive vice president of
engineering and operations at Nanosolar. Her company is
using methods of nanotechnology to produce thin-film solar
that is just as efficient as crystalline silicone, but at a
fraction of the cost.
Cathy Zoi, managing director of Silver Lake
Kraftwerk. Zoi, a former Obama-administration official, will be
running a joint endeavor between George Soros' investment fund
and the Silver Lake private equity firm, investing exclusively in
Ann Marie Sastry, president and chief
executive officer of Sakti3. With backing from GM, Sastry's company
has developed a next-gen lithium-ion battery that uses no
liquids, offering big improvements in energy density and
Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief
marketing officer of General Electric [GE]. One of the
spearheads of GE's "ecomagination" campaign, Comstock is now
guiding GE's efforts to invest $10 billion over five years in new
Denise Bode, chief executive officer
Wind Energy Association. This Oklahoman served as
president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America
before becoming CEO of AWEA, where she works to lure new wind
manufacturing facilities to the US.
Rebecca McDonald, chief executive officer of
Energy. McDonald is pioneering a method for underground coal gasification that produces a
synthetic oil which can be turned into a low-carbon jet fuel or
used in petrochemicals.
K'Lynne Johnson, chief executive officer
Renewable Sciences. Elevance creates "green"
petrochemicals that are used in everything from personal care
products to industrial lubricants and plastics.
Read more about these women at Grist.org.