Girl Power shone brightly at Economist Energy Summit 2015

Narda Shirley

A young female delegate at the Economist Energy Summit on 4th and 5th November was overheard to remark that the audience in the room was unusually diverse. Energy is one of the industries that still struggles with diversity. Anecdotally it seems, if you haven’t done your time on an oil rig (or other heavy engineering equivalent), it will impact your ability to climb the career ladder. This can be an issue for women, which is in turn an issue for the industry which is desperate to build new engineering talent pipelines.

In our business as comms advisors, it is very often the case that what we learn working for one client, gets applied in other contexts. So it was with the Lloyd’s insurance market Dive In Festival of diversity & inclusion still very much in mind, that I set off for the Honorable Artillery Company to help tweet from day one of the conference on Wednesday.

For my money, the two stand out speakers on the agenda on day one were women. Dorothy Thompson, CEO of Drax Power spoke to the Economist’s Energy Editor, Edward Lucas about the wood pellet-based renewable energy side of the business, Drax Biomass. She made a compelling case for biofuels, explaining where the wood for the pellets comes from, the advanced technology in the supply chain that compresses and transports the pellets and the parity of the fuel with coal in terms of performance.

The final slot before drinks went to Dr. Michal Meidan of China Matters, an energy consultancy. She gave a masterclass in the use of data points that consistently supported her comments and observations, keeping the session bubbling along as she discussed China’s energy mix in consumption terms and the future for gas, with her own engaging energy and style.

Of course it’s not only gender, but cultural diversity and age that can bring new perspectives to foster innovation. Two entrepreneurs stood out in particular on both counts. Mytrah’s CEO Ravi Kailas gave a compelling interview about how his wind power business is creating new capacity for the national grid across 6 states in India. And young entrepreneur and Bio Bean founder Arthur Kay (who was studying architecture when he had the idea) explained how waste from coffee is being used to generate power in his innovative UK based business.

Over drinks, conference sponsor BP offered delegates the ultimate ‘millennial’ young gamer innovation experience, the chance to try on Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets for an immersive experience of their exploration and R&D. As you can see from the photo, it was an offer I just couldn’t resist.

The Economist Energy Summit 2015 certainly helped the industry present a more than usually diverse face to the audience. It will be interesting to see which stories and spokespeople get picked up in the final round-up of the reporting to see if the media also found merit in the diversity of voices and views on offer.