Powerful Women | Inès Tunga, Energy Systems Catapult
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Inès Tunga, Energy Systems Catapult

Inès Tunga, Energy Systems Catapult

What job do you do and what do you love about it?

I am the Renewables Practice Manager for the Energy Systems Catapult, a role I was promoted to just this month! As such I lead ESC’s work on renewable energy as the technical specialist – be that through projects, engagement with external stakeholders or supporting colleagues with their work when renewables enter the equation. Before this, I was an Offshore Renewable Energy Consultant leading on offshore wind, wave, and tidal development projects.

My role is to provide specialist knowledge for the organisation – scientific, engineering and technical know-how that draws on the latest sector expertise. Engaging and collaborating with experts is central to my work. It enables the whole system knowledge sharing and insights.

In a sector still in its infancy, my role offers exciting opportunities to shape and support policy and investment decision making for a net-zero carbon world. I love that in my day-to-day job I have the opportunity to work alongside talented colleagues from diverse fields, contributing to the development of an evidence-based strategy for energy transformation.

Tell us about your background and career path.

As a child, I was always fascinated by petrol stations. I just did not get how a black liquid came from a pump into my dad’s car and allowed us to drive for many miles before refuelling. So, I studied Chemical Engineering in Bangalore, focusing on energy generation and use and went on to obtain Masters degrees in Energy at Heriot-Watt University and in Subsea Engineering at the University of Aberdeen.

In my studies, I enjoyed supporting complex research projects, from information gathering to the presentation of findings. In the deep-sea projects, I acquired a sound knowledge of leading-edge engineering principles – design, modelling, material integrity, and so on – and working alongside senior engineers allowed me to develop a stronger analytical and technical approach. I designed and modelled a subsea Christmas tree valve (used in oil and gas wells) and I was involved in the design and physical scale model testing of a Taylor-Couette reactor for producing biodiesel in a continuous process.

Doctorate studies in Offshore Renewable Energy with the University of Edinburgh, Exeter and Strathclyde followed. As a Research Engineer with the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) my work on a radical path to offshore wind cost reduction was pivotal to the technology road mapping. The outcomes have been incorporated into the ETI’s whole energy system model and informed the need to build around 75GW of offshore wind by 2050. I was facilitating an understanding of how offshore wind can contribute to the delivery of a clean, secure and affordable energy system, and what needs to happen to drive innovations to commercial reality.

What has been your personal experience of climbing the career ladder?

I moved a lot while growing up and had to learn about new cultures, languages, make new friends. Similarly, my career path was not linear or straight forward.

I’ve always loved learning and I was able to use my qualifications to open new doors: I worked as an IT programme manager for a Flemish NGO and as a process engineer. With a passion for the energy sector, I started to take on roles that allowed me to strengthen my knowledge and experience in the renewables sector.

One of my biggest challenges, however, was a lack of confidence. I was often the only lady in my classes or department. Colleagues were always brave in putting themselves forward – but It was never the case for me. With the support of mentors and energy sector role models, I pushed myself to embrace the unknown and went for it.

Have I ever encountered bias? Yes, I was asked once at an interview if I was planning to have children, and how I would cope with long hours. How did I deal with it? I made a conscious decision not to work for organisations that clearly don’t embrace inclusion and diversity.

On some projects working with more experienced peers, I saw bias directed at me or colleagues. I used to be quiet and afraid to say the wrong thing. However, I realised that what got me through the door was my experience, skills and capabilities – and getting things wrong or not knowing something is OK. I now raise bias issues when they happen, asking the group to allow everyone to contribute. Some of our meetings now have facilitators.

What kind of support have you found helpful in advancing your career?

I have had very supportive bosses and academic mentors who always motivated me to challenge myself. They gave me opportunities to learn on the job, take on tasks that I was uncomfortable with, secure in the knowledge I would always find the support needed to succeed.

I am also so grateful to the senior women in the energy sector who have openly spoken about their experience – as women and as working mums. It has given me the confidence to go for my dreams.

What advice would you give to aspiring women in the energy sector?

  • No one knows everything – ask for help, advice and support.
  • Don’t settle for less – push yourself, do it scared but do it. And if you fail, try again!
  • Be kind to yourself – you are your worst critic.

 

What are your views on the current state of gender diversity in the UK energy sector?

We now live in a generation where we can push back on the bias, we can promote STEM to the younger generation, we see more women in politics, in engineering, in board rooms and particularly in the energy sector. However, we still have a long way to go: the headlines around gender gap, unbalanced projects, and so on, show that gender diversity and inclusion matter!

I have a six-year-old daughter and I want her to know that she is smart, she can achieve anything she sets her mind to, and her talents, passion, and personality are the only important drivers of her life. Not her gender, not her skin colour or anything else. We all have to do our part to motivate and encourage each other.

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