As we approach the end of another year, the impending 2030 Renewable Energy Target gets closer, and industry continues to network, engage and develop solutions for the betterment of society, the environment and the planet. Paramount to this are the diverse and inclusive conversations that are helping to explore the myriad possibilities for renewable energy. Megan Richardson, Iberdrola Australia Senior Manager – Environment, Planning and Communities and founder of the Women in Energy Network, discusses her experience and the new industry-wide collaboration.
With compounding environmental concerns in the energy sector, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture – that in order to support and nurture our communities, there needs to be a sustainable planet to call home. Part of the challenge as the transition continues developing, is the connection between governments and service providers to the communities they serve.
Engaging with people
Throughout Ms Richardson’s more than 17 years of experience in the renewable energy sector, she said there has been a marked change in how communities and stakeholders are being engaged with.
“I have worked closely with communities and stakeholders throughout my career – from running consultation workshops in Fair Isle (the remotest inhabited island in the UK) to meetings with project neighbours over the kitchen table in Central West New South Wales.
It’s in the communities and stakeholder engagement space where I have seen significant changes, not only in the industry’s approach to engagement but also in community and stakeholder sentiment towards renewable energy.”
With Iberdrola Australia since 2016, Ms Richardson said she has witnessed a consistent evolution in how industry has been connecting with communities and stakeholders.
“Industry has moved on from a minimum tick box exercise late in the development of a project, if at all, to early, genuine and impactful engagement. I think that industry has realised the value that commencing early and genuine engagement with communities and stakeholders brings to a project as well as the power of listening and how these engagement principles can help deliver better outcomes for the project and the community,” Ms Richardson explained.
“The benefits that renewable energy developments can deliver for local communities are changing too, with the industry offering innovative benefits in the communities hosting our projects such as good neighbour benefit sharing schemes, local electricity discounts, and co-investment opportunities in projects.”
This awareness of and action regarding sustainable development of projects across the energy sector and its transition is something that Ms Richardson said Iberdrola Australia was proud to have led for decades.
It’s more important than ever to be united against the challenges of the energy transition. Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords that have grown in prevalence in recent years, and research behind inclusion in the workplace has shown the organisations that support diversity outperform those that don’t.
Not only is ensuring an equitable, diverse and inclusive workplace the right thing to do as it creates better outcomes for the organisation and improves workplace engagement, but it better represents and serves their diverse communities.
Delving into a new branch of Iberdrola Australia, Ms Richardson discussed the 2023 commencement of the Women in Energy Network to ensure a more inclusive, fairer transition for all, and provide a place for women in the sector to connect and engage with each other.
Calling the establishment an ‘organic’ development, the network was founded by Ms Richardson, Tahlia Nolan, Claudia Williams and Briar Blount. The concept of the network grew from the exchanging of ideas, sharing of podcasts and articles, and from conversations between meetings about how the group could support gender diversity within the workforce and in leadership positions.
“These discussions coincided with our attendance at industry networking events with a focus on women (the Clean Energy Council’s Women in Renewables networking drinks and GE’s Women, Talking and Golf) and a recognition of the value of these events for women in our industry.
And it was from there that the idea of creating a network and running a series of networking events to showcase the incredible female talent in the industry was born.”
Throughout the year, the Women in Energy Network have hosted many events across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with Ms Richardson saying they have been representative of the expertise and innovations that are helping shape a fair, and just energy transition.
“My favourite part of the event presentations has been the honest, straight talking, informative nature on topics that our industry is currently trying to wrap their heads around. Event topics have included the Federal Government’s Nature Positive Plan and the Queensland Government’s Energy and Jobs Plan. When unpacking these policies, we decided that a panel format would be best suited for discussion.
“These panels were fantastic; they had a real collision of the ideals with practicalities for building out the infrastructure at the place needed to decarbonise while protecting, engaging and allowing our biodiversity and regional communities to thrive.
“For our events focusing on hydrogen, electric vehicles and distributed energy resources we opted for a presentation format and our speakers delivered informative and engaging presentations on innovations, the lagging government support and solutions for our industry to grow adoption of these new technologies and integration into our current markets/systems.”
Ms Richardson said the events not only help share industry expertise and experience, but have allowed brilliant engagement between presenters and guests as well as encouraging post-event discussions.
“The conversations have been positive, and the nature of them has been around how we can share more information, collaborate, and meet the challenges of the industry and the energy transition.”
This work undergone by Iberdrola Australia is an example of the collaborative success of uniting insight, experience, and the drive that there are more diverse, and inclusive solutions to the energy transition.
The Women in Energy Network have already held six events over 2023, and are already planning ahead for the future. Ms Richardson is eager to continue sharing knowledge and insights from the diverse network with a larger audience, as well as seeing the energy industry as a whole move forward to more equitable solutions.
“I think at an industry level there has been a continued forward momentum in the diversity and inclusion space with a particular focus on gender diversity,” Ms Richardson said.
“I think that people are at the centre of the energy transition and I would like to see the energy industry take concrete steps towards an equitable energy transition where communities – and in particular regional communities – First Nations peoples, the workforce and key stakeholders are engaged and participate in the transition (with, of course, some targets around gender diversity!).
“Take responsibility, it’s on all of us to educate, empower, do better and lead in this space and deliver a diverse and inclusive energy transition.”
You can follow and connect with the Women in Energy Network on LinkedIn to stay updated on future events.