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Kenya’s renewable sector and women in the industry: Elizabeth Rogo AEC President East Africa

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Tuesday, 26 May 2020 19:20

Elizabeth Rogo
Elizabeth Rogo

Kenya has one of the most active renewable sectors in Africa. Could it serve as a model to be followed by other countries across Africa? We find out more from Elizabeth Rogo, the African Energy Chamber President for East Africa on the energy sector and on being the only female in a top leadership role.

Engineer Elizabeth Rogo is also the founder and CEO of TSAVO Oilfied Services, a leading Kenyan energy consultancy firm of experienced technical and legal professionals.

Rogo is passionate about the energy sector, and about helping young Africans, particularly women, to enter the field.

She spoke to The Africa Report about energy in East Africa, lessons the region can learn from Kenya, and the participation of women in the industry.

TAR: What does energy in East Africa look like currently. How popular is renewable energy, and are governments prioritizing this?

Elizabeth Rogo: East Africa is endowed with a good energy mix coming from hydro, fossil fuels, geothermal, solar, wind, and biomass. Though this has not translated to the level of consumption one would expect due to many factors including very low supply of electricity across many parts of Africa, Kenya is an example where electrification is rising at a very steady rate. Renewables, and in particular geothermal energy have played an important role.

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The global interest in renewables has risen in tandem with the climate change movement and the call for energy transition to low carbon resources. This is in addition to the drastic effect of COVID-19 not only on human health but also on the steep decline for crude oil due to demand – a fact that has affected East Africa.

With higher economic growth and a need to unlock this potential, the need for cheaper and low-carbon energy is an area governments are prioritizing – especially in those countries that have the resources and have invested in large scale projects such as Kenya.

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This is in addition to upcoming world class oil and gas developments such as onshore Uganda and Kenya (oil), offshore Tanzania (gas) that are awaiting FID (Final Investment Decision). South Sudan is currently the only oil producing nation in East Africa which production levels that have been heavily affected by civil strife.

If you take the example of Kenya, we see through its flagship geothermal energy producer, Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN), that 30% of the country’s current total installed power of 2,700 megawatts (MW) comes from geothermal energy.

Kenya has developed other world class developments in solar and wind:

  • Geothermal – Kenya is the leading provider of geothermal energy in Africa and currently sits at number 7 in the world. The total potential of geothermal energy in Kenya is estimated to stand at 10,000 megawatts (MW) with current capacity now at 823 MW according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).
  • Solar Energy – Kenya’s 50 MW Garissa Solar Plant in northern Kenya, which was commissioned in December 2019, is the largest of its kind in East and Central Africa. This was a Chino-Kenya project.
FILE PHOTO: Power-generating wind turbines are seen at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County
Power-generating wind turbines are seen at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project (LTWP) in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County, northern Kenya, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya has been leading the way for renewable energy in East Africa, and maybe the continent. What lessons should we be taking from Kenya?

The lessons from Kenya include:

  • Decentralization of energy sources – this has been successfully implemented with solar power, especially in rural and low-income areas, from private providers such as M-Kopa, Panda Solar, etc.
  • Utilizing cutting edge solutions and technology.
  • Utilizing home grown technical expertise such as in the geothermal sector – Kenya as a leader in this area is used for bench-marking by other countries in the region.
  • Encourage more private-public partnership.

Does Kenya have what it takes to lead the trend across Africa? And it is possible that oil services/companies may join that trend?

As mentioned above, Kenya is already leading the trend in renewable energy sources in Africa.

KENGEN (Kenya Electricity Generating Company) recently won two major geothermal drilling contracts in Ethiopia,  where it is utilizing its drilling expertise to help the country develop its resources. The Tulu Moye Geothermal Project ($56m) and the Aluto Project for the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) for $575.9m.

Kenya is a nascent country in terms of the oil and gas sector, however, with the strong entrepreneurial spirit and the Local Content Bill, it is not unreasonable to see Kenya make strides in growing strong local oil service companies.

What can you say about inclusion of women in all aspects of the energy sector? Are women taking on more decision-making roles across the energy sector?

What you see in Africa reflects what we see in the wider world. Leaving a major segment of your population out of the sector deprives it of diversification of its workforce, social benefits, empowerment of women and in turn of families and communities. The integration of women and actively promoting gender diversification in this sector leads to innovation and creativity.

Providing access to women, be it through programs, does not mean handouts, but providing the opportunity to achieve success through merit. This begins by encouraging more girls into STEM related programs, attracting more women into energy related jobs, and not just as engineers, but giving more women in management and leadership roles a seat at the table.

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There are many ways women are taking on decision-making roles by entering into management and leadership roles as wells as being entrepreneurs.

There is the onus of women leader[s] in the energy sector to be visible and change perceptions that may make it harder for women to consider careers in this sector.

I also feel it’s important that when we discuss the inclusion of women in the energy sector, we must give credence to the men who also make this happen.

Our Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk, is very passionate on this topic and is on record stating that inclusion of women is not an option that companies can ignore. This is a man who walks the talk if you look at his own organizations.

Granted I am the only female President in the African Energy Chamber, but my appointment has certainly made it even clearer that women must transcend to leadership roles – of which I have as the Founder and CEO of my company TSAVO Oilfield Services based in Kenya.

So, the question of inclusion must involve everyone if we are to truly see higher number of women and especially in more leadership roles.

Is there a notable difference in leadership style by women versus men in the energy sector?

I feel the most leadership skills being practiced is what is deemed culturally acceptable in a male dominated energy sector. I hate to generalize but it’s fair to say that women do bring a different perspective and skills and that should be embraced.

Are women getting the recognition they deserve for their input and leadership in the energy sector?

There is certainly as shift as I see more women entering management and leadership positions, however, the numbers are still very low. It is a fact that in the energy sector, and more so the oil and gas industry, women needs to prove themselves more than their counterparts.

Are there any barriers to women’s participation in energy in Africa specifically, and if so, what are they? Are they barriers particular to this sector, or simply the problems women face in all sectors?

The major barriers especially in the oil and gas sector are:

  • Cultural: how can a young girl become an engineer, as engineering is normally seen as a male-dominated field.
  • Visibility  [on] what the energy sector offers; the sector needs to demystify what it is about and be open about what they do without being apologetic, especially in these times of climate change.
  • Remoteness of many projects including offshore may not be appealing to women and more so [to] mothers and wives.
  • Attitudes of men towards women who work in the energy sector – both at home and in the workforce.
  • Funding for women-founded energy business is difficult on many levels including bias towards companies not fronted by men.
  • Local Content regulations not giving special dispensation to women-found business[es ]and promoting greater gender diversification.
  • Oil companies not taking the time to work with women-founded companies to help them grow as part of their local content initiatives.

Though women face barriers in other sectors as well, it is certainly more apparent in the oil and gas sector.

We are seeing more women enter the renewable energy sector. The attractiveness of this sector includes the application of more advanced technology than in oil and gas, better working environment and women are more easily accepted and seem to rise faster in leadership roles.

As President of the East African Region at Africa Energy Chamber, and CEO of TSAVO Oilfield Services, what are you doing to increase inclusion of women? Do you hire by quota, or is there any other way in which you ensure proper representation of women in your teams?

My appointment as the first female President for East Africa in the African Energy Chamber (AEC) is a game changer. As a leader in the organization, I have a platform with a global reach to advocate for more diversification particularly in the energy sector and particularly in oil and gas.

Though my chapter is the newest in the Chamber, I am very cognizant that women must be seen leading in discussions, panels and moderating. I strongly believe in networking and it is my mandate that women take full advantage of this. It is our mandate to ensure that we showcase the formidable women, and in particular the African woman, in the energy sector.

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As the founder and CEO of TSAVO, I am in the minority as a woman in East Africa that runs a technical company (oilfield services). As a former Chair (Nairobi Sector) for Society of Petroleum Engineers, and on my own account, I mentor many young students especially in the engineering field with a strong interest in women.

I have created a strong internship program within TSAVO where I provide a space for women to learn other aspects of the business, to give them the confidence that they too can aim high if they so wish. I am an example of someone who rose within corporate America and now aiming higher as an entrepreneur.

I strongly believe that my presence helps stoke greater interest in these young women that they can achieve leadership roles, but even the young men become sensitized to the fact the women can easily run successful organizations.

However, I still feel it is important that both men and women should be able to work together and that diversity in the workplace should not be debatable.

Are there enough women interested in the energy sector? If not, what do you think the reason behind this is?

If you look at East Africa, oil and gas is in its infancy, so for many women this was not a career option unless you were educated overseas like I was. I did not know anyone who worked upstream as a young girl growing up in Kenya.

We are now seeing almost half, if not slightly more, women entering petroleum engineering and other related programs.

So, I feel that the interest is certainly on the rise in the energy sector the more it is apparent and the more that women see other women in it.

The energy sector needs to also play a role and demystify what it is all about and again I point at oil and gas.