17 December 2020
Women in Wind 2020 Q&A: Juliana Kainga
How did you first become interested in renewable energy and joining the clean energy transition?
My first job was in the renewable energy sector. I graduated with an engineering degree almost 10 years ago and was looking for an opportunity that would allow me to apply the theoretical knowledge I had amassed during my years in university, while still exposing me to the commercial elements of a technical based industry. At the time, there were only a handful of companies in Kenya that were looking at renewable energy, and luckily I ended up joining an organization that was heavily invested in the inclusion of large-scale renewable energy projects in Kenya’s energy mix.
Working as a project developer for a 100 MW wind project at the time gave me the opportunity to see first-hand the impact of renewable energy for the country and, more importantly, the communities living within the project area. The shared value created for the communities – which included job opportunities, upgrading of healthcare facilities, access to clean water and improved/ new healthcare facilities – were the reasons my interest was piqued regarding the clean energy transition. This sustainable business model was quite new at the time in Kenya, and 10 years later the impacts are 10-fold to both the organization and the communities involved.
Tell us about your expertise and passion in the sector. For you, what is the next “space to watch” in renewable energy?
My passion for the sector is deepened the more I work in the industry. Since my first role in renewable energy, I have been involved in development of different renewable energy technologies from a commercial standpoint with Enel Green Power, and more recently in policy and regulation matters as a board member of the Electricity Sector Association of Kenya (ESAK). This has given me invaluable experience in project development of large scale renewable energy projects, strategy in competitive procurement of renewable energy, financial analysis of projects, complex contract negotiations with key stakeholders within the project value chain and advocacy matters at the intersection of business and government.
The next space to watch is Africa – if we haven’t already been doing so. In the most recent study on the wind potential in Africa, 27 countries have enough wind potential on their own to satisfy the entire continental electricity demand, estimated at 700 TWh annually. In countries like Kenya, the technical potential is over 1,000 GW. We have a long way to go before we can fully take advantage of this potential, as barriers like grid connectivity and stability become a big part of the conversation.
However, with every challenge there is an opportunity and there are policies and regulations under development which are looking at different models that would allow for more uptake of cheaper and cleaner energy at a larger scale. Adoption of large of storage applications is one that would be complementary to the implementation of wind power. Another area to look out for is the private PPA market, where large industries directly procure renewable energy from power producers – this is already a reality in places like South Africa and a lot more activity has been noted in other countries.
What sort of challenges did you encounter in entering the sector?
Female role models are a big one. As I joined the sector after my undergraduate degree, I found it difficult to decide on what would be the most ideal path to take. I knew that I preferred to take a less technical route in my career, however I did not have an idea of what that would be. I was lucky that I stumbled upon something that challenged me and that I loved. But it did take some time before I landed the opportunity.
It’s difficult to see where you belong when there is little representation all around. Now in mid-career, there are more examples of female leadership. Being part of the Women in Wind 2020 cohort has helped me to connect with successful and inspiring women within the renewable energy space. This has been a great way to overcome this challenge.
If you had to pick one key issue facing women in the wind power sector, what would it be and why?
Absorption of the talent pool. There is no shortage of qualified women, however the challenge is in connecting the talent to the opportunities. The impact of this varies by career level: Early career means we are missing out on 30-50% of the workforce to other sectors; while at mid-career, it means we are losing valuable experience acquired by the talent pool as women weigh job satisfaction and other life demands.
I pick this issue because it is one of the reasons I may have missed out on an opportunity to work in such an impactful sector earlier in my career. This is the reason I pay it forward through the mentorship work I do with the MasterCard Foundation, which focuses on mentoring young women pursuing engineering degrees by supporting them in figuring it all out, helping them build a strong network and connecting them to opportunities.
Finally, what do you hope to achieve as a participant of Women in Wind Global Leadership Program? How will you contribute to the next generation of female leaders in the sector?
2020 has truly been an unprecedented year and every sector has been affected. We have already seen a shift in the way business is conducted. For the energy sector, which is a critical service during this period, it is now clear more than ever that a cost-effective model of procuring energy is the only way to have a viable, sustainable and scalable way of generating energy. Renewable energy and specifically wind energy are key contributors to the sources that will provide long-term sustainability, are easy to deploy and cheaper.
As part of the Women in Wind Global Leadership Program, I hope to elevate the conversation on wind energy and promote its uptake though the different channels I am part of in Kenya.
On the Blog
Yesterday, Women in Wind conducted its fifth and final Knowledge-Transfer Webinar of 2020. The webinar took a forward-looking approach by focusing on “New Market Opportunities in Wind Power,” with presentations on: digitalisation, green hydrogen and corporate procurement of wind and renewable energy.