The Clean Energy Council is tireless in its pursuit to plug renewables into the Australian grid but it is also driven in its efforts to see more diversity in an industry still tipped towards male engineers. One of the CEC’s initiatives to enable the professional development of female employees in the industry is an annual scholarship offer that includes the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ Foundations of Directorship course, along with a 12-month membership of the AICD and mentoring by CEC director Jenny Paradiso.

This year’s winner is Hannah Heath, chief strategy officer at energy retailer Nectr (part of Hanwha Energy), who took some time out of another working-from-home day in isolation to answer some questions for EcoGeneration.

How long have you been in the energy sector?

More than 17 years. I fell into energy by accident; it was my first placement when I started my career with NSW Treasury. I studied applied economics and history in Canada. The first thing I loved about energy was the combination of the physics and engineering components overlaid with economics. Over my career I’ve been interested in asking how do you put those two things together in a way that can deliver products, offerings and services to consumers. During my career I’ve worked across regulation, policy, government, strategy and development, I’ve worked for small businesses up to quite large organisations, I’ve worked in the electricity and gas markets – so I’ve had quite a lot of diversity.

Is the physics of energy something that appeals to you?

I love understanding how things work. When I was studying economics I took physics classes to build on the mechanical engineering components I’d studied in high school. I’m quite passionate about understanding how things fit together and how they work; understanding how electrons flow and how you balance a system, frequency control, how you get that balance in the market and how that results in you being able to turn on a switch and the electricity will actually be there.

But things will only become more complex as more renewables are added to the grid, right?

I think it’s about trying to do things differently. That’s one of the opportunities we at Nectr have; we’ve looked at the way the market has worked for so long and can see we need to do things differently than before. We’ve got a new type of consumer and access to new technologies. We also have regulation that is backward-looking, that hasn’t quite caught up to where the innovation is. Engineers would say it’s more complex but we may just need to look at solving those problems differently to the way we solved them in the past. We’re trying to solve a slightly different problem than the one that we are used to.

What do you have to say about the split between men and women in the industry?

I spent a lot of time being the only woman in the room, but that’s been changing over time. It’s changing because of initiatives like the Clean Energy Council’s Women in Renewables program but also because businesses are recognising that diversity of thought and experience are quite strong commercial drivers. Diversity is a passion of mine because I believe that you strive by being challenged and thinking about things differently, by leaning something new every day, by testing different perspectives from your upbringing, from your education and learning.

How can the renewables industry benefit from greater diversity?

The industry is all about delivering outcomes for consumers, and renewables is about access to clean and affordable energy for consumers. At Nectr we believe Australia can be a world leader in renewable technology and in order to deliver and built those innovative solutions you need that diversity of thinking that women can bring in particular into that mix. You want a different mix of experience and thinking in order to create something new.

You are a mentor in EnergyLab’s Women in Clean Energy Fellowship, but have you had any mentors yourself along the way?

I have, but I think one of thine things I’ve learned the most is from the people I have mentored myself. I look as mentoring as being not so much a hierarchy. I was a mentor for the Australian Women in Resources Alliance’s mentoring program a couple of years ago and I learnt so much from the person I was mentoring. It really helped to provide perspective, to understand what they were going through, the challenges they were facing, and to help them work through learning and development – how do you manage conflict, how do you become confident presenting. I’ve learned an awful lot from people I have mentored. It’s very much a two-way street.