Lisa Chiba, Momentum Energy Managing Director

By Holly Tancredi, Assistant Editor, Energy Magazine

Momentum Energy has created a name for itself as one of the country’s greenest electricity companies. Managing Director, Lisa Chiba, spoke with Energy Magazine about how Momentum is adapting to the energy transition, and its plan to help customers on their decarbonisation journey, alongside reflections on her leadership and passion for a positive workplace culture.

Lisa moved into her role in January 2022 after returning to Australia from seven years in the UK with a clear priority – to develop a compelling refreshed strategy for Momentum Energy, which is owned by Hydro Tasmania, Australia’s largest generator of renewable energy. This included time spent understanding both businesses and working out exactly how Momentum wanted to set up for the future. A month after finalising this strategy, the energy crisis hit.

“Immediately, the world changed, and my team and I were thrown into – as every other retailer and energy company was – a whole new world,” Lisa said.

While the changing energy landscape tested the company, Lisa is confident in the decision to use the new strategy to guide the business and its customers through the difficult period.

“There is no denying that at the operational level we had to pivot and do things differently,” Lisa said.

“But the fundamentals of the strategy stayed true and we remain committed to them. It’s more critical than ever that we stick to the path.”

The strategy’s pillars

Lisa and her team are enormously proud to be part of the Hydro Tasmania family and recognise its history and experience as a renewable energy generator for more than 100 years. However, as the mainland retailer of Hydro Tasmania, Momentum also needs to establish and grow its own unique brand and position in the market.

“Through Hydro Tasmania, we have a wealth of renewable energy expertise, experience, and capability that we want to share for the benefit of our customers,” Lisa said.

“But as a retailer, we also want to focus on innovation, digitisation and simplification, delivering products that are affordable and useful for our customers, large and small.”

Lisa said the core pillar of the strategy is to help support customers of all types on their decarbonisation journey, utilising in part Hydro Tasmania’s strong history, experience and credentials in the green energy space. “Residential customers remain very important to us, but the strategy calls for an increased focus on business – small, mid-size enterprises and commercial, industrial – customers as well,” Lisa said.

“We’re confident that business customers will increasingly see the many benefits of purchasing their electricity from a reputable, Australian-owned green energy company.” Simplifying and improving digital experiences is another key strategic pillar. The final pillar is focused on Momentum’s employee base – the people.

“We’re powered by our people and I’m passionate about building the skills, capabilities, motivation, engagement and ultimately success of our people,” Lisa said.

“These strategic pillars have helped us navigate through this very difficult period, and give us a clear north star and aspiration to continue to work towards.

“The great opportunity for us is to continue enhancing our green credentials. When people think of green electricity companies, we want Momentum Energy to be foremost in their minds.

“We’ve received external recognition for that, including a 4.5 star rating in Greenpeace’s 2022 Green Electricity Guide, which rated us as one of Australia’s top three green electricity companies.

“Now we want to accelerate the shift to renewables by becoming a trusted green partner to businesses and households looking to decarbonise.”

One example of this is a preferred supplier partnership with Australia’s leading not-for-profit housing provider, Nightingale Housing, to power its Victorian operations from energy sourced 100 per cent from renewables. Momentum is currently contracted to provide electricity to ten Nightingale developments across Melbourne. Upcoming Nightingale projects will use 100 per cent GreenPower purchased from Momentum Energy during the construction phase of the projects. After construction, power to residents is supplied via a Corporate Power Purchase Agreement linked to renewable energy from the Granville Harbour Wind Farm in Tasmania.

Rebranding the transition

Nearly twelve months on from the beginning of Australia’s energy crisis, and the necessary fast-tracking of the energy transition, Lisa said there are continually evolving questions and challenges to work through.

“As an energy retailer, what can we offer our customers beyond price?” Lisa said.

“How do we make sure that our customers – particularly the most vulnerable – are given the opportunity to participate in the benefits of the new energy future? These questions and more are top of mind for me and my leadership team.

“If we remain in an environment of high prices, how do we help you reduce your consumption? How do we help you to consume at the optimal times of day?”

Solutions might involve helping a very large business customer with a virtual power plant solution, or helping residential customers understand their usage patterns to help reduce their power bills.

Lisa said the energy transition urgently needs a rebrand because describing it as merely a “transition” doesn’t capture the enormity of the task.

“This is a major overhaul of the entire system and requires profound, transformational change,” Lisa said.

“To be successful, it requires active and informed engagement from all participants, including consumers.

“We know that the challenges are huge, but we also know that the public overwhelmingly wants action on climate change, so we need to make sure we don’t lose that public mandate for a shift to renewables.

“The journey to net zero is not just essential if we are to tackle climate change, but also – as was highlighted in the 2022 Health of the NEM report – the best way to ensure affordable energy in the long term.

“If we delay action now because of the current price volatility then there’s a risk that future generations will experience even greater energy poverty and greater climate change impact.”

Accessible energy

Lisa firmly believes the energy transition must be supported by better education and support. To achieve this, retailers need to invest in their own capabilities and solutions so they can effectively support their customers and the broader public. They need to make it easy and affordable for customers to access renewable energy and green tech solutions.

Lisa said retailers have a huge role to play in helping consumers understand and navigate their options.

“How do we help customers understand how renewable energy; electrification and other products and services can benefit them?” Lisa said.

“How do we make it tangible, demonstrating that every Australian household and business can play a genuine part in the shift to renewables? There are green products and solutions out there that can help customers reduce both emissions and costs, but navigating these can be quite difficult.”

Momentum Energy has recently begun a project involving quantitative research, consumer experimentation, co-creation and prototyping of products to trial.

“Our approach is deeply rooted in respect for customers and the principles of service design – we are talking to customers, asking them what they want and need, then testing, prototyping and co-creating solutions with them,” Lisa said.

Performing at their peak

Lisa Chiba, Momentum Energy's Managing Director

Throughout our discussion, Lisa’s focus and passion for people continually comes through. She is clear that Momentum is powered by its people and one of its greatest assets. Accordingly, there is a huge focus on the employee value proposition; diversity, equity and inclusion; and investing in career development and staff engagement.

“Investing in our people is critical to our success,” Lisa said.

“We’ve developed compassion fatigue training for our frontline staff, in particular the teams that look after our vulnerable customers, family violence, and hardship customers.

“As cost of living challenges continue to evolve, initiatives like this are more important than ever. We want to support our people who in turn do amazing work day in and day out supporting our customers.”

This support will remain pivotal as Australia’s economy continues shifting, with Lisa predicting 2023 will be a difficult year.

“Cost of living continues to rise; as do interest rates, and we know a lot of people will be rolling off fixed-rate mortgages,” Lisa said.

“Energy prices look set to continue to increase despite some government intervention: at this point we don’t see a viable alternative scenario in the next year or two.”

Lisa said the many and varied challenges of the energy transformation and the inherent need to be able to evolve and innovate to keep up with the pace of change meant it is essential for the energy sector to hire people based on their skills and capabilities, not necessarily just on their experience and education.

Hiring outside the industry box and investing in on-the-job learning will be continually explored by Momentum.

“I think the retail sector naturally attracts a range of great people who are often highly engaged, purpose led, connected to the customer, innovative and passionate,” Lisa said.

“I want to make sure that continues and that the sector can remain really vibrant.”

Leading the way

Diversity, equity and inclusion are a key priority and top of mind for Lisa. She is conscious of her position as a relatively young female leading a large business in a traditionally male dominated industry. Lisa wants to ensure she is visible and can help others see themselves in similar positions.

Lisa is proud of her Australian-Japanese heritage; and with a two year old at home she knows her background and family life is not necessarily typical of a retail energy executive. Attending industry events, she has noticed that there are not that many others like her.

“I suddenly realised that I am a bit of an outlier and it’s become quite important to me to be a visible role model,” Lisa said.

“Representation does matter, and I would be incredibly proud if my being in this position can give others more confidence and courage to chase their career ambitions.”

Both Momentum and Hydro Tasmania are making great progress on their DEI agendas, with both leadership teams currently having more women than men.

An enhanced gender neutral parental scheme launched in 2022 to complement a range of other benefits and support offerings, with more planned in 2023.

“Diversity just breeds different ways of thinking,” Lisa said. “With different cultures and different opportunities, you learn more and you’re challenged more.

“I’m not your typical executive but I think my differences are just as important as my typical leadership traits. Resilience and confidence in particular have been hard-earned over my career and I think it’s really important to be honest about that.

“It’s something that I try and talk to people early on in their career about because I find particularly women often say ‘I couldn’t do what you do’. Well, twenty years ago, I couldn’t either.

“I’ve had some incredible leaders, both male and female, but a number of female leaders who have really been role models and have mentored me and believed in me more than anything.

“This is a fascinating and challenging time to be in the retail industry and all of us will be facing unprecedented risks, opportunities and changes in the coming years – but I’m incredibly excited and optimistic to be a part of it.”

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