Raka Sarkar, Associate at Finergreen – a financial and strategic advisory boutique that focuses on renewables – tells us how good is investing in renewable energy and how ESCP Business School’s MSc in Energy Management (MEM) equipped her with the right tools to thrive in her career.
An IEA report looked at the impact of COVID-19 on renewable energy deployment in 2020 and 2021. The assessment showed that the COVID-19 crisis is hurting – but not halting – global renewable energy growth.
Tell us why it’s still wise to invest in renewables despite the current climate?
Renewables provide long-term, stable cashflows for investors. They are not reliant on demand and supply shock/volatility during their operations. The twin effect of COVID-19’s impact and oil price drops have reinforced the fact that renewables are here to stay and will continue to grow into the future. As per recent reports, following the drastic slowdown in global economic activity our energy demand fell by 3.8% in the first quarter of 2020. Electricity demand declined by almost 20% (IEA, 2020). The decrease in electricity use has led to the curtailment of costly fossil fuel generators, with utilities favouring renewable energy generators due to their lower operating costs.
In terms of investments in the sector, where are we at the moment and what are the upcoming trends in renewables?
Investments in the energy sector in general were expected to be 20% less than the forecasted values owing to the impact of COVID-19. Analysts have now predicted that global capital spend on renewables will bounce back to pre-Covid-19 levels in 2021. While the impact of the pandemic was marked, with supply disruptions and construction delays, industry experts expect to see spend increase by 8.5% to $255 billion, in line with 2019 levels.
In terms of capacity additions, solar PV and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new build generation for at least two thirds of the global population, with that proportion. living in locations that comprise 71% of GDP and 85% of energy generation.
Wind and solar projects will account for over 70% of the $13.3tn of investments in new power generation capacity expected globally by 2050. There is a clear push towards decarbonisation, evidenced by new fossil fuel capacity falling to 30% in the global power generation mix (Bloomberg).
In terms of upcoming trends, we can expect great strides being made in green hydrogen, electric vehicles, and large-scale integration of storage into the grid. The progress in different regions of course follows different paces, but globally these are the new trends to watch out for.
Are you finding yourself having to be innovative in your role?
“Innovation” can be relative depending upon the market and the sector you are operating in. For myself, working out of the Dubai office as a member of the Finergreen MENA team, I would say many of our current active projects are innovative in the sense that the MENA region is still considered new and catching up on the deployment of renewables, and these projects have never been done before.
The technical knowhow and financial and strategic implementation of these projects is happening for the first time, and I feel happy to be able to contribute to this growth. As an example, we recently worked on GCC’s first landfill gas-to-energy project, which has tremendous implications in the way the Gulf region manages its waste and thinks forward towards sustainability.
What drives you at work? Which aspect of your job is most exciting to you?
The core of what I do is my biggest motivation. I entered into MEM with a clear focus on a future working in renewables. The fact that both the present and future is green, and that every project you work on creates an “impact”, especially in a region that is still growing, makes me feel that my work is relevant and impactful.
Aside from that, Finergreen is a great place to work – a lot of my professional and personal growth has come from the time I spent here, and I feel truly lucky to have such an international and talented team of colleagues.
The most exciting part of my job is working with regional and international investors and lenders. Even though our projects are in the MENA region, working with a plethora of global stakeholders really helps me to understand the renewable energy sector better and how things change from country to country.
What is the importance of having a holistic, 360-degree view of the energy industry? How do you think business and individuals can help shape a sustainable future?
I had just completed a technical internship on a solar microgrid project as part of my engineering masters, when I realised that my knowledge of the wider energy sector, especially renewables, was poor. I didn’t see myself working in an engineering field anymore and realised that I would love to learn how the global renewable energy sector works. That brought me to the MEM programme, which offered the 360-degree view on the energy industry, and the rest is history.
We all have preferences for the sector in which we want to work: tech, strategy, finance, supply chain, etc. Having a 360-degree view not only helps us to have a “bigger picture” view of things, but also allows us to better understand other stakeholders and the bottlenecks, challenges and constraints faced in the sector. I might work in finance today, but I well understand the technical, commercial, legal and policy aspects of a renewable energy project. This allows me to broaden my scope of understanding and liaise with multiple stakeholders with more awareness and understanding.
When it comes to being “sustainable”, aside from government measures and policies real change comes from the grassroots level; from decision-makers who can really drive sustainability efforts in their businesses and individuals in their homes or place of work.
For businesses, one of the easiest ways is to reduce energy costs – be it through demand-side management, using energy efficient products or from decentralised forms of energy generation, e.g. rooftop solar panels.
For individuals, it could be overall reduction of energy and water consumption, private cars, single-use plastics, etc., or by increasing kitchen-waste composting. It all starts at home. Sustainability should be a “mindset”, not an insurmountable obstacle!
Tell us about your experience on the programme and how the MSc in Energy Management helped your career
It was a fantastic experience to be in the MEM Class of 2017! Not only were the coursework and topics exciting to me, but the international classmates and exposure we had was incomparable. Studying at two campuses of course made the programme more appealing. I can safely say that I was effectively introduced to the world of renewable energy finance during the MEM; it formed the foundation of my understanding of this aspect and helped me in my current job.
What advice would you give to yourself just after graduating from the MSc in Energy Management?
Have a clear goal in mind: pick the sector you want to work in and the role you wish to have. Internship and job searches can be hard sometimes, but persevere and never lose sight of your goal. Keep an open mind to adapt to changes. For example, right after the MEM I spent three months in Nairobi on an internship with a solar home systems company. A lot of people doubted this choice, but I knew that the activity of the company and the start-up experience was something that really excited me and I could add value to it. Regardless to say it was one of the best experiences I’ve had! Shortly after I moved to Dubai, and only felt stronger with my past professional experience.
For anyone reading this article thinking “I want to do what she does”, can you share any advice? What are the most innovative companies or fields people can look in to?
If you are interested by the world of finance and have a passion for renewables, look out for similar advisory and consultancy companies, roles within power producers in their finance and investment teams, or in banks and investment firms.
In my opinion, working in advisory is the most exciting and challenging because we get to work on many different kinds of projects with different technologies, which is not necessarily applicable to one company which has pre-determined sectors, countries or strategies.
Feeling inspired by Raka’s career? To follow in her footsteps, check out ESCP Business School’s MSc in Energy Management programme.