By David Ertischek ’01
There aren’t a lot of Emerson College alums working in the energy industry. Elizabeth Kaiga, MA ’98 is one of the few, and she’s also a leader in the clean energy sector.
Kaiga’s career was forged by her worldwide education and cultural experiences. She’s an American citizen of Kenyan descent, who attended school in India, and got her master’s degree while living in Belgium.
“My international school — Woodstock, in India — is an international school at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, within the Tibetan community in India,” said Kaiga. “We had the unique experience of being able to interact and learn about the local community, including visiting Dharamsala and interacting with the Dalai Lama in a natural environment.”
Kaiga said the Dalai Lama was a speaker at the school on several occasions.
For her undergraduate studies, she matriculated at the University of East Africa, Baraton in Kenya. She went on to get her master’s in Global Marketing from Emerson in a program based in Brussels. At the time, Kaiga wanted to learn more about marketing, and was curious about public relations. She secured an internship with a noted PR firm following her time at Emerson.
“I began working for an energy client, and got really fascinated by some of that work. And ultimately, I ended up getting an offer to work with that particular client in the energy space. That began my trajectory towards energy,” said Kaiga.
Fast forward to 2020, and Kaiga was recently recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy for her achievements and leadership in clean energy. Kaiga received the C3E Award in the business category during the virtual C3E Women in Clean Energy Symposium. The U.S. C3E Awards are administered by the MIT Energy Initiative, Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy, and the Texas A&M Energy Institute.
Being a recipient of the award was very special for Kaiga.
“Receiving it is unique because it is the first time that I have received an award that combines two things: leadership in clean energy, as well as building a more inclusive workforce,” said Kaiga. “I get recognition for industry accomplishments, and then separate recognition for being a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have supported those two things in my career. This is the first time they’ve been recognized together, because it recognizes leadership in clean energy while supporting women, and my being a mentor to other women.”
Through her job as a key account director of renewable energy at DNV GL, she provides strategies and solutions to support a global transition to sustainable energy that is safer, cleaner, and more reliable.
“What I deliver is wide-ranging, but specifically, it’s technical engineering services to a) help build projects, and b) operate those projects. By building projects, I mean wind or solar farms,” said Kaiga.
“We do work with energy storage, as well. We have began to do more work recently with EV [electric vehicle] technology and things like that. Anything that is a solution to accelerating the clean energy transition and lowering carbon emissions, we provide those solutions from engineering perspective.”
Kaiga is also on the board of directors for the nonprofit Women of Renewable Industries & Sustainable Energy (WRISE).
“[The clean energy industry] is becoming increasingly more representative. And I think some of that is happening because the industry is becoming more aware of areas where we need to improve in diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Kaiga. “You don’t become more diverse unless you decide as an industry to be more intentional and more focused on attracting that talent.”
She said there are now more energy-related programs recruiting women and promoting a more diverse workforce at the college level. The WRISE board participates in those programs to provide more exposure of the renewables sector to women. Kaiga said those efforts have been good in moving the industry to be more inclusive.
She said the average person can support clean energy by individual actions, and be more thoughtful about how they consume energy.
“I also say that equitable access to clean energy is important. Many underserved and underrepresented communities still don’t have access to clean energy. I’m really committed to having more discussions about that, and exploring different strategies to ensure access,” said Kaiga. “Be it policies or structuring of financing.”
Kaiga added that the clean energy industry needs to make sure that underserved communities can reap the benefits of the energy transition so it’s an inclusive and equitable transition.
“When I gave my remarks at the C3E Women in Clean Energy Symposium, I said we can’t successfully accomplish a clean energy transition unless it’s inclusive and you can’t accomplish a transition if you leave people behind. That puts a lot more emphasis on making sure it’s available to everyone and that’s one part of this movement,” said Kaiga.