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Women in Wind Q&A: Sarah Barber (Switzerland) 

 

The Women in Wind Global Leadership Program sat down with Sarah, one of this year’s Mentors, to chat about her pathway into renewable energy and the key issues facing women in the wind sector.

Sarah currently leads the Wind Energy Research Programme at the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil in Switzerland, where she is responsible for projects on high-fidelity wind modelling, smart measurement systems, wind farm acceptance, microgrids, environmentally-friendly blade materials and eLearning. She has been active in the research and development of wind turbines in Switzerland and Germany for more than 12 years, including as a researcher at ETH Zurich, a wind energy expert at BKW Energie AG, CTO at Agile Wind Power AG and Group Manager of the Center for Load Measurements at Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy. She holds a M.Eng. degree in Aerospace Engineering from Cambridge University (UK) and MIT (USA) as well as a PhD in Aerodynamics from the University of Sheffield (UK). Sarah has participated actively in a range of mentoring programmes, including SwissTec Ladies, FeelScience (University of Stuttgart) and TALENTA (Fraunhofer). She is also a qualified Business Coach (Trigon).

How did you first become interested in renewable energy and joining the clean energy transition?

I studied engineering because I wanted to apply technology to help people. I did my PhD on the aerodynamics of soccer balls, which was really interesting and great fun, but something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was really helping people or contributing to making the world a better place.

At this time, a friend was working for a wind energy company and became very passionate about the topic. I realized that wind energy would be a perfect way to combine my relevant skills in fluid dynamics with my desire to help improve the world.

Tell us about your expertise and passion in the sector. For you, what is the next “space to watch” in renewable energy?

I have been working passionately in applied R&D and teaching in the area of wind energy in Switzerland and Germany since my post-doctorate position at ETH Zurich 12 years ago. The business area has professionalized immensely over this time period, and the main focus now lies on reducing electricity costs through innovations such as advanced wind farm control strategies, Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and high-fidelity flow simulations in complex terrain.

The next “space to watch” is the integration of renewable energies with storage technologies for grid stability, as well as sector coupling solutions such as power-to-gas.

What sort of challenges  did you encounter in entering the sector? Can you tell us about an achievement wherein you overcame such a challenge?

The main challenge for me so far has been the lack of acceptance of wind energy in Switzerland, and the resulting lack of companies, jobs, teaching, motivation, innovation and R&D.

I am currently attempting to overcome this challenge by setting up a new wind energy research program at the university at which I work and by founding the Swiss Wind Energy R&D Network, which aims to bring universities and companies together and bundle resources to improve innovation.

This problem begins with the different treatment of babies and children depending on their gender, as well as gender stereotypes that are strengthened by the advertising industry. Companies in the wind sector could counteract this by making women more visible in their marketing and recruiting material.

If you had to pick one key issue facing women in the wind power sector, what would it be and why? 

I see the main problem in the technical area of the wind power sector, which is highly dominated by men. This leads to a lack of female role models and a strengthening of gender stereotypes, which favours men and only increases this domination.

This problem begins with the different treatment of babies and children depending on their gender, as well as gender stereotypes that are strengthened by the advertising industry. Companies in the wind sector could counteract this by making women more visible in their marketing and recruiting material, for example.

Finally, what do you hope to achieve as a mentor of Women in Wind Global Leadership Program? How will you contribute to the next generation of female leaders in the sector?

I hope to act as a positive role model for women and girls experiencing gender discrimination, especially in the wind power sector. I aim to support my mentee in developing strategies to continue being successful in her career and to deal effectively with gender-specific challenges. I hope that she can then pass on her experiences to others in the future.

Let us know your reactions or thoughts on Sarah’s interview at womeninwind@gwec.net!

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