This article was published by the Pembina Institute on March 7, 2023.
Over the last two years, the Pembina Insitute has examined the barriers to gender equity in the energy sector and has proposed solutions to be adopted by the province, federal government and leaders. This series of interviews celebrate women advancing Canada’s transition to a clean economy and offers their insights into the opportunities to make the net-zero future one where all Canadians can participate and lead.
Binnu Jeyakumar is the Electricity program director at the Pembina Institute. Binnu says she loves the problem-solving aspects of her job in fostering the transition to clean energy. She has a BSc in mechanical engineering from the University of Calgary and started her career working as a plant engineer for TransAlta, then moved on to Engineers without Borders and worked with the government of Ghana. But after three years in West Africa, Binnu decided to return to Canada where the work she was doing affected the people of her own country. In Canada, she says, she “had something to lose” because she was no longer an external stakeholder. She joined the Pembina Institute where she began tackling policy on climate and energy. The challenges are many because the change required is great but “I really love this work,” says Binnu. “I love that I get to work on climate change every day.”
Why is the energy transition important to you?
I do think it’s an existential crisis. I see it having impacts on our world right now. I see it as really urgent. The other thing I see is an opportunity for bringing about more social equity. I feel like the energy sector, to date, has been great for growth and prosperity but there are some very endemic issues around social inequity. And I feel, as we usher in a new energy economy, we have the chance to make sure we don’t perpetuate those wrongs. That’s really exciting for me – to make it more inclusive of groups that have been excluded such as First Nations, women, and people of color. I feel that the new energy sector can also be more democratic than the previous energy sector. Those kinds of economic and social changes, I find really inspiring.
What are the key challenges you’ve faced in your career, and what are your thoughts on their solutions?
The electricity sector hasn’t gone through any major changes in the last 100 years. There’s a lot of inertia in the existing system. And the change is hard and difficult. There’s a lot of risks that people perceive with this change. So the challenge has been demonstrating that the change is necessary, and demonstrating that it’s doable and affordable. In doing that, I have had to fight some of the prevailing myths in the electricity sector that have been part of the way the sector works for so long. And then coming up with creative and tangible solutions on how we can make this work, that’s difficult… Personally, for me, because it is a matter of trying things that have not been tried before, there are great opportunities for self-doubt. So I have been navigating that minefield of wanting to be humble and to learn and to be completely aware of risk, but also being able to come in with some confidence.
What does a successful energy transition look like to you?
The energy transition needs to happen broadly enough and fast enough that it actually addresses climate change and keeps temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees C globally. It has to be equitable. Within our societies, within developed countries, there are all these inequities… it should not be a transition that unfairly advantages one side over another or one group of people over another. And then the other thing about the transition is that, if planned well, it will actually result in an improvement of our lifestyles, not a compromise. So our lives will actually be better for it, our lifestyles will be richer, our communities will be more community oriented, and we’ll have richer lives.
What book is on your nightstand?
Canoe Country by Roy MacGregor – it’s about the role of the canoe in Indigenous peoples’ lives as well as in settlers’ exploration of Canada.
What is the proudest accomplishment of your life?
I organized a climate change conference in Calgary in 2016 where we had over 500 attendees.
If you were granted one wish to make the world a better place, what would it be?
I would like everyone to have equal opportunity to reach their maximum potential.
Describe the future of energy in one word.
I can’t decide between sustainable and equitable.
This profile also appeared as part of the Women in Energy Transformation Series, a series of four national dialogues co-hosted by the Pembina Institute and GLOBE Series. You can view the rest of the profiles here.
The Pembina Institute also wishes to to thank the McConnell Foundation and Women and Gender Equality for their generous support of Pembina’s ongoing work on advancing gender equity in energy.