Happy Women’s History Month! At NCSEA, we believe that women play a vital role in contributing to and developing the clean energy industry. The women featured in this blog have had a monumental role in shaping the clean energy landscape to what we know today. From designing the first solar-powered house to serving as United States Secretary of Energy, the worldwide clean energy landscape would be drastically different without the contributions from these women.
- Edith Clarke (1883-1959) - Edith Clarke was the first woman to work as an electrical engineer and the first female electrical engineering professor in the United States. After receiving her Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1919, she worked as a computer at General Electric. While in this position, where she filed a patent for a graphical calculator that could be used to solve issues with electrical transmission lines. Edith left General Electric in 1947 to become a professor at the University of Texas, Austin where she worked until she retired in 1956. Edith achieved many milestones as a woman working in the electrical field; she was the first woman to present a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, received two patents related to electrical power transmission, was the first woman to become an elected fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers.
- Maria Telkes (1900-1995) - Hungary native Maria Telkes is a woman pioneer of residential solar. After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Budapest, she became an American citizen and worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designing a solar-powered home. In the late 1940’s she successfully created the first solar-powered home system with architect Eleanor Raymond. A few years later, she designed a solar-powered oven, and at the end of her career she was working with the United States Department of Energy to create the first solar-electric residence.
- Hazel O’Leary (1907 - Present) - Hazel O’Leary was the first woman to hold the position of United States Secretary of Energy. In 1966, Hazel earned a law degree from Rutgers Law School, and in 1969 moved to Washington D.C. to work at the Coopers & Lybrand accounting firm. A few years later, President Gerald Ford appointed Hazel to the Federal Energy Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs where she represented the concerns of consumers who challenged the influence of major energy producers. President Jimmy Carter appointed Hazel to head the Department of Energy’s Economic Regulatory Administration in 1977. In this role, Hazel’s agency advocated for price controls on various forms of energy, and Hazel successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Fuel Use Act. In January 1993, Hazel became the seventh United States Secretary of Energy. Nominated for this position by President Bill Clinton, she was a strong advocate for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Hazel formed partnerships with nonprofits and manufacturing companies to implement energy-efficient technologies, and requested additional funding for the research of wind, solar, and energy-efficient technologies.
- Annie Easley (1933-2011) - Annie Easley was a computer scientist and mathematician who began her career at the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA). At the time, she was one of four African Americans working at the organization. As NACA transitioned to NASA, Annie worked to develop computer programs that could solve some of the most pressing energy-related issues. She developed programs that aided in the development of solar and wind projects as well as battery technologies that were utilized in early hybrid vehicles. Towards the end of her career, Annie broke NASA dress code and wore a pantsuit to work rather than the skirts, dresses, and heels that she was expected to wear. When talking about why she decided to break dress code, Annie said, “We took the emphasis off what you’re wearing. It’s more like what you’re actually producing.”
Even as key contributors, women are still greatly underrepresented in the clean energy industry. According to the 2018 Clean Energy Census, the North Carolina workforce is 52% male and 48% female, however, only 24% of clean energy employees in the state are female. In 2018, NCSEA launched our Women in Clean Energy (WICE) initiative in efforts to foster a community of support, solidarity, and camaraderie for self-identifying North Carolinian professional women in the clean energy industry. More information about the initiative and how to sign up for the WICE mentorship program can be found here.