Women in Energy: In conversation with Dr. Rahaf Ajaj on driving renewable innovation

13 Feb 2024
Women in Energy: In conversation with Dr. Rahaf Ajaj on driving renewable innovation

Dr. Rahaf Ajaj, Assistant Professor, Abu Dhabi University, UAE Chapter Leader, Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) speaks to Energy & Utilities about some of the most pressing issues in the energy sector, explaining further how women can create change in this field.

She holds an M.Sc. degree in Radiation Physics and B.Sc. degree in Medical Physics as well as a doctorate degree in the field of Environment. Her research is situated on Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and Occupational and Environmental Health & Safety, focusing on radiation protection, safety, and regulations. She has worked for more than ten years at both a nuclear authority and petroleum council. 

In this interview, she shares her views on energy transition, explaining that governments, industry, and society must collaborate to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy technologies. She talks about the role women can play in the renewable energy sector, adding that as advocates women must push for energy transition.

What do you think is the most pressing issue within the energy sector now?
One of the most pressing issues facing the energy sector is the transition to renewable and sustainable energy sources to combat the effects of climate change. As the Paris Agreement outlines, this change is necessary to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The shift is supported by various reputable sources, including the IPCC, IEA, academic research, and global commitments like the UN SDGs. To make this transition happen, government, industry, and society must collaborate to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy technologies, improve energy efficiency, and facilitate a transition toward a low-carbon and sustainable energy future.

Do you think that energy transition is possible by 2050?
The feasibility of reaching an energy transition by 2050 is supported by a wealth of evidence from organizations such as IRENA, ETC, academic research, and international bodies like the UNFCCC. Considering the evidence from these authoritative sources, it is evident that achieving a comprehensive energy transition by 2050 is indeed feasible. The combination of technological advancements, policy support, investment in renewable energy infrastructure, and changes in consumer behavior can contribute to a significant shift towards a sustainable and low-carbon energy system. However, it is important to acknowledge the challenges and barriers that may impede progress, including the need for coordinated international cooperation, overcoming vested interests in the fossil fuel industry, and addressing equity and social justice considerations in the transition process. 

As someone who works at advocating for women in renewable energy, do you find the process rigid and old school?
The renewable energy sector has long been dominated by men, with rigid and traditional practices and cultures. But the industry is changing, and it's becoming more diverse. There's a growing awareness and effort to include more women in renewable energy through initiatives that create inclusive work environments, policies to reduce gender disparities, and programs to support and mentor women in the field. Although challenges remain and outdated practices linger, the momentum is shifting towards a more inclusive approach. Advocacy groups are at the forefront of this transformation, emphasizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the renewable energy sector. They work tirelessly to eliminate barriers, challenge old-school mindsets, and pave the way for more women to enter, thrive, and lead in this critical industry. So, while aspects of rigidity exist, the landscape is changing, and while remnants of old-school processes may still exist, the tide is turning! Our role as advocates is to continue pushing for this change, ensuring that renewable energy becomes a leading example of gender equality and empowerment.

In your experience which is the most flexible part of advocating for women in renewable energy?
As a UAE chapter leader, I can say that Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), is working to promote gender diversity in the renewable energy sector. Our most effective advocacy means building and nurturing our community and professional network. We use various platforms to create a sense of community and belonging among women in renewable energy, and our flexibility enables us to adapt to the evolving landscape of renewable energy. Our status as an NGO allows us to collaborate with academic institutions, industry partners, and policymakers to create opportunities for women and advocate for systemic changes that support gender equity. Ultimately, we aim to empower women to pursue careers, leadership roles, and entrepreneurial ventures in renewable energy, driving progress toward a more sustainable and equitable future.

What are some of your contributions, any initiatives implemented or policies you helped shape?
Being recently nominated as a United Nations verified climate champion is a significant achievement that underscores my commitment to combating climate change and misinformation through social media platforms. This role highlights my influence and dedication to raising awareness about climate issues and positions me as a leader in leveraging digital platforms for environmental advocacy. These efforts to utilize social media for this cause are crucial in educating the public, promoting sustainable practices, and addressing the spread of misinformation regarding climate change. This initiative aligns with my previous contributions and further establishes your impact in environmental sustainability and public engagement.

How can companies ensure that more women are part of their workforce?
Companies can take several steps to ensure a diverse, inclusive workforce that attracts and retains female talent. These steps include implementing non-discriminatory policies, addressing gender balance, and improving staff retention. By promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives, companies can create a work environment that is more innovative and productive. Supporting initiatives that advocate for women's rights and empowerment can also help to create a more inclusive environment for female employees. Companies can attract and retain female talent by embracing diversity and leveraging technologies that benefit women, leading to a more diverse and innovative workforce.

How can countries ensure that they are placing the right policies to advocate for that? 
The development of effective policies to advocate for more women in the renewable energy workforce. By aligning policies with sustainable development goals, investing in renewable energy capacity, and promoting clean energy development, countries can ensure that they are placing the right policies to create inclusive opportunities for women in the renewable energy sector.
 


 

Dr. Rahaf Ajaj and many others will be speaking at Middle East Energy, the region's most anticipated energy event is all set to be back with its 49th edition, running from the 16th to the 18th of April 2024 at Dubai World Trade Centre.

The flagship energy event of the year will be the epicenter of opportunities for energy professionals from all over the world! And keeping in line with COP28, Middle East Energy 2024 will be bigger, better, and more focused on sectors that will cater to your energy needs.

This year Middle East Energy advocates how renewable energy, energy storage and digitalization are key to optimizing the region’s power ecosystem and ensuring self-sufficiency. Register now!

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