Charging Up: A chat with Omosede Imohe, global fellow at RMI

Plus, climatetech career moves at Toyota, Span, EVgo, Invenergy, Swift Solar, Clean Energy Ventures, Blue Ridge Power and more.
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Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to wesoff@​canarymedia.​com. Canary thanks BayWa r.e. for its support of the column.

Omosede Imohe: An engineer on a mission to provide Nigerians with reliable electricity

Omosede Imohe is a global fellow at RMI. She is leading Abuja Electricity Distribution Company’s transition to clean energy with interconnected minigrids. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.) This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

I studied electronic engineering, but I didn’t begin my career as an engineer. My first professional step was in cost control at an engineering firm. I then joined Morgan Stanley — I worked in London, applying my financial expertise in the corporate finance sector. During this time, I also briefly ventured into the fertilizer and petrochemical industry, which was my first foray into energy-related work. In 2015, I moved back to Nigeria and began working in finance again, but this time in the agricultural sector. In Nigeria, we import most of our food, so the aim was to unlock the potential in local agriculture.

About two and a half years into that role, I was approached by Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), one of the largest distribution companies in Nigeria. They were looking for someone to head their corporate finance and development team. What intrigued me about this role was the opportunity to develop projects that provided consistent 24/7 electricity supply through distributed energy resources. In Nigeria, reliable electricity is a challenge, with most people only having access to electricity for about 10 to 12 hours a day. The goal was to use distributed energy resources to augment the grid, bridging the gap and offering people full-day electricity. It was a profound shift for me — going from finance to directly impacting people’s daily lives through energy solutions. Working on this, especially during Covid, was one of the most exciting projects of my career.

At AEDC, we collaborated closely with RMI, and they proposed that I continue my work on this project for another year. This marked the start of my journey in climatetech, with the mission to continue the work that was so important to me, ensuring that people had access to reliable electricity.

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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

To speak up more. As someone naturally quiet and reserved, I prefer to listen. But as you progress into more senior positions, it’s essential for your voice to be heard, and people want to hear you speak.

This feedback came from a CFO I deeply respect who noted that as women and due to certain cultural norms, we often hesitate to speak up. However, she emphasized that if you have intelligent insights to share, you should voice them. I’ve observed that when men speak in meetings, they may not always say something more profound than what I might have said, but they make sure they’re heard. Since receiving that advice, I’ve consciously tried to express my views during meetings, ensuring that I’m not withholding valuable contributions.

What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

One of the most significant barriers I faced was introducing distributed energy resources to a traditional utility filled with engineers who had been in the business for 20 or more years. As a newcomer with less than five years of experience, trying to introduce new ways of doing things was a challenge.

The key to overcoming this barrier was leveraging data and compelling numbers. When we received pushback, we responded with thorough analysis, showing why it was essential for us to pursue this new approach. Using concrete numbers was an effective tool because it’s hard to argue against them. If the numbers indicate that a new method is more efficient than the traditional way of doing business, people start to pay attention.

Another successful strategy was gaining the support of well-respected individuals within the organization and leveraging their influence. The last few managing directors at AEDC were very supportive, and we could use that backing to encourage others to buy into our idea. It’s clear that people are starting to see the value of distributed energy resources. Although not everyone is entirely convinced yet, there’s definitely more interest than before.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

From my perspective in the utility space, and especially within the context of Nigeria, there’s a clear shift toward decentralized grid systems. So for those already within the traditional utility business, especially engineers, I encourage them to embrace the DER market and look into microgrid development. There’s also a noticeable gap in the early stages of project development, specifically in load assessments and system design. These areas present significant opportunities, especially for women. If individuals could specialize in feasibility studies, load assessments or aiding distribution companies in understanding the perspective of the developer, they would be well positioned in the market.

What is your superpower? 

I can be very convincing. And if I want something, it’s very difficult to say no to me, so I guess I am good at getting what I want.

Career moves

Susan Elkington is now senior vice president of electric vehicle supply for Toyotas North American operations. Elkington previously served as president at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant. According to the International Energy Agency, EVs could make up more than one-third of global car sales by 2030.

Arielle Bertman is now VP of product at home electrification platform Span. Bertman was most recently head of new product initiatives for the energy and sustainability team at Amazon.

Sara Rafalson has been promoted to senior vice president of market development, public policy and external affairs at EVgo, a builder of EV charging networks.

Jennifer Palestrant has been named SVP of public affairs for offshore wind at Invenergy, a developer, owner and operator of large-scale sustainable energy projects. Palestrant previously served as director of business development for Americas offshore wind at Fugro.

Annikki Santala has been promoted to senior scientist at Swift Solar, a startup developing a novel class of solar materials known as perovskite tandem photovoltaics.

Brandie Williams, previously SVP of sales with Pathion Holdings, is now a business-development executive at CEG Energy Solutions. CEG provides turnkey design-build projects that are paid for with the savings its projects produce for its clients.

Katie Theoharides, former secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts and current head of offshore wind operations in the eastern U.S. for RWE, is now president and CEO of conservation nonprofit The Trustees of Reservations.

Shilpa Shah has joined solar project developer Ampyr Energy as director of development services. Shah was previously with IOWN Renewable Energy.

Candice Roberts, previously with Elite Solar Integration, is now an associate project manager at Blue Ridge Power, an engineering, procurement and construction company working on solar and solar-plus-storage projects.

Ari Simmons has been promoted to marketing specialist at Briggs & Stratton Energy Solutions, a provider of backup power generators and battery storage systems.

Ariel Hyre has joined Clean Energy Ventures as an analyst. Hyre will focus on the scientific aspects of the diligence process and assist with portfolio-company support.

For the record

The number of women working in energy grew by almost 150,000, a 7.8% increase, in 2022. Source: Department of Energy

According to the Department of Energy’s 2023 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, the number of women working in the energy sector grew by 149,732, a 7.8 percent increase from 2021. Of the net new jobs added in the U.S. in 2022, more than half were held by women.

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Eric Wesoff is the executive director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is chief of staff at Canary Media.