Tracking gender and the clean energy transition

Tracking and understanding the role of gender in the clean energy transition including the relationship between gender and energy consumption

The importance of gender equality and its impacts on economic and social development is gaining attention within academia and society and available analysis clearly points towards the importance of gender considerations to advance the clean energy transition.

Policymakers, researchers and other interest groups need to understand the role of gender in the clean energy transition. What areas are already being studied? Where are the research gaps? What the current gender challenges within clean energy and what solutions have been sought so far? The IEA seeks to explore these important questions as part of Tracking Clean Energy ProgressAs this is a complex area with scarce data availability for a thorough assessment, TCEP 2018 highlights two key areas where further research could provide useful insights: first, the direct role of gender in the energy sector; and second, the relationship between gender and energy consumption.

Direct role of gender in the energy sector

There are clear gender differences relating to participation in clean energy technology research and development in academia and industry, as well as the nature of research undertaken.

Gender diversity of boards and employees in energy companies can give insights into the position of women in the energy sector. The C3E TCP sought to highlight some of the data available in “Women In Clean Energy – Knowledge, gaps and opportunities” (C3E TCP) finding that women represented on average 35% of the workforce in the renewable sector in 2016. This is higher than in the traditional energy sector but lower than the share across the economy (IRENA, 2016).

The numbers are especially low for decision-making positions. A study analysing 72 countries found that women represent only 6% of ministerial positions responsible for national energy policies and programs (USAID & IUCN, 2014). Globally, women account for less than a third of employees across fields within scientific research and development (2014) (UIS, 2015). The gender gap in technical and research positions can bepartly explained by the low representation of female students in STEM subjects - women represent more than 50% of university degrees in OECD countries but only 30% within science and technology (OECD, 2008). Other factors identified are: gender stereotypes, work-family balance and insufficient career promotion and mentoring programmes (EIGE, 2012).

Innovation is a key driver to reduce costs and increase competitiveness of clean energy technologies and a number of studies show that diversity unlocks innovation and is good for business (McKinsey&Company, 2015 & EY 2015). More data needs to be collected to assess linkages between gender diversity in science, research and the corporate sector, and the rate of progress for clean energy technologies.

On the policy side, any links between women in decision-making positions and implementation of national policies addressing the clean energy transition could be a useful area of further research. Evaluation of national initiatives to introduce more women to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and data on which subjects women do choose (e.g. are they more likely to choose nuclear or environmental engineering?) could provide useful insights into what type of scientific research and technology areas that attract women.

Gender and energy consumption

Gender impacts consumer behaviour, adoption of innovative energy technologies and public perception of different technologies. Tracking these relationships requires more academic research on behavioural patterns and preferences, as well as investigating any differences between the target consumers for energy products versus the actual consumers.

The impact of energy related-behaviour is important for policy making and product development. Globally, household energy consumption patterns differ between men and women. For example in family households women spend more time on unpaid energy intensive household labour like cooking and laundry. A study looking at four European countries found significant differences in energy consumption between single female and male households. Overall, men were found to consume more energy and this was mainly related to transport and eating out (R. Raty, A. Carlsson-Kanyama, 2009). The European Institute for Gender Equality found that women are more sustainable consumers than men as they value eco-labelled products and green procurement higher. They were also found to be more willing to change their energy-related behaviour in favour of sustainable options (EIGE, 2012).

Gender-based differences in public perceptions of technologies, and early adoption rates, are other interesting areas of high importance for policy makers and manufacturers. There is a correlation between gender and the perception of nuclear energy, where overall men are more supportive than women (NEA, 2010). Early adopters of clean technologies such as EVs are usually men. The Nordic EV outlook 2018 looked at the expansion of electric vehicles in the Nordic countries; Early adopters of electric cars in Norway identified by the Elbilisten survey are primarily middle-aged men with a high level of education and income, and living in urban areas. The gender distribution of electric car owners has not change significantly in recent years (Norsk Elbilforening, 2013 & Norsk Elbilforening, 2016). Most electric cars were sold in households with more than one car. There is similar proof from Germany where Plotz (2014) found that the most likely consumer of private EVs are middle-aged men living in rural or suburban multi-person household.

EV car ownership in Norway by gender and household type, 2013 compared to 2016


Gender and energy access

The way energy is accessed and used is also not neutral in its impact. When it comes to energy access, the positive impacts - particularly for women - are well documented, especially for access to clean cooking technologies. More on this can be found in IEA's Energy Access Outlook. Women in many developing countries spend on average 1.4 hours a day collecting fuelwood and 4 hours cooking and as they are the ones spending most time in the household, they are disproportionately affected by indoor pollution. WHO estimates that household air pollution causes 4 million premature deaths every year (WHO, 2018). 58 million children worldwide do not attend school and 100 million do not complete their primary education, a majority of them girls who stay at home to assist their mothers with household labour.

Average number of hours spent collecting fuel per day per household, 2015


Electricity brings within it additional technology which can have a positive impact on various socio-economic aspects of women’s lives including improved equality, as access to electricity brings lighting in homes and additional hours for studying, while street lighting improves women’s security. Electric appliances also reduce the amount of time spent on household work which allows for paid work, while access to the internet and mobile phones provide business opportunities and greater access to information.