Women in clean energy may now occupy a small place, but it’s never a dull place!
By Nancy Pfund (Managing Director, DBL Investors)
As a woman in venture capital, I am part of a small club, and it’s part of my job to try to change that. As a woman in clean tech venture capital, the club is smaller still – but somehow it fits like a glove.
While it pains me to say this, women in clean tech venture capital are as much the exception to the rule as renewable energy is to the U.S. energy supply.
For example, for all the hoopla that surrounds a wind farm or solar plant that gets built on public lands, many more permits are granted each year to oil and gas exploration without most people even knowing. In 2010, the Bureau of Land Management approved nine large-scale solar projects on 40,000 acres of federal land. In that same year, the BLM processed more than 5,200 applications for gas and oil leases covering 3.2 million acres.
But it’s not just our small numbers that we share in common. Read any magazine and, sooner or later, you will come across an article positing that in order to get ahead in business, women have to outperform. It’s not enough just to do a good job. The truism goes that when a woman moves up the ranks, she does so by excelling, even while doing pretty well might have sufficed for a man.
It’s the same for renewables – they’re held to a higher standard. Recently, for example, draft BLM rules for natural gas “fracking” on public lands were released that would allow companies to wait until they were finished drilling to inform regulators of the chemicals they used.
Meanwhile, even though solar plants require no deep holes to be drilled nor chemicals to be injected as natural gas fracking procedures do, putting a solar plant on desert land owned by the government requires years of preparation – studying traffic, visual impacts, hiring biologists to measure impact on vegetation and wildlife and much more before any construction can begin.
Solar developers see this as part of their responsibility, and don’t assume that these impacts can be evaluated only after-the-fact. When all is said and done, these fracking chemicals may well remain in soil or groundwater systems far longer than any trace of a solar plant may remain, as these facilities are required to put up bonds to fully restore the land after they shut down.
Be it gender roles in the workplace or rules governing energy development, these inconsistencies summon up images of an unlevel playing field and a double standard. And yet, venture capitalists, like clean energy entrepreneurs, are incorrigible optimists.
The good news for women considering a career in sustainable energy is that confronting these contradictions and tackling this duality can be strangely empowering. Women in clean energy may now occupy a small place, but it’s never a dull place!
This post was originally posted at Forbes.
About the guest blogger: Nancy Pfund is a Managing Partner of DBL Investors. She currently sponsors or sits on the board of directors of a number of private companies, including Primus Power, SolarCity, Solaria, Ecologic, PowerGenix, and BrightSource Energy. She also worked closely with exited portfolio companies Tesla Motors and Pandora. Previously, Nancy was a Managing Director at JPMorgan. She lives in Berkeley, with her husband and their two children.