“Nuclear energy provides an essential service within the electric system”
Carmen Becerril is President of the Electricity Market Operator (OMEL). Since 2018 she is also President of the Spanish Association of Women in Energy (AEMENER), created to “give the electricity sector a female voice and make it more inclusive and modern,” she says.
Ms. Becerril graduated in Law from the Autonomous University of Madrid, after which she pursued senior management studies at the IESE Business School. She is also a member of the High Corps of State Administrators. Since entering the electricity sector in 1996, she has held high positions in private companies and has been a member of the Management Board of various energy companies. From 1998 to 2004 she was General Manager of the Institute for the Diversification and Saving of Energy and General Manager of Political Energy and Mines. In this interview, she discusses the positive role of nuclear energy, the energy transition, the challenges of managing storage and demand and the job opportunities offered by the energy sector.
Why was AEMENER, the Spanish Association of Women in Energy, created?
It was a project led by a group of women that worked in the electricity field. It was born from a reflection that covers various aspects. On the one hand, the energy sector has always been quite masculine, and a female voice was needed. On the other, we need to bring the value of energy closer to society, and of course, we need to have a female presence in the value chain of energy companies that is as balanced as possible.
“AEMENER was born because a female voice was needed in the energy sector”
We were also aware of the importance of supporting a rising interest in STEM careers in girls, especially at an early age. Apart from this, in the quest to add a female voice to the sector, it is important to convey the message that energy does not only require engineers but many other profiles as well. These considerations led us to create an association where each member is there in a personal capacity, not as an institution.
How many people are part of this association?
We are currently 380 members, both men and women, because ultimately it is about making the energy sector more modern, more inclusive and with a real component of diversity that enriches the companies’ activity. Based on this, AEMENER is composed of women and men with a vocation to cooperate toward this goal.
What main areas of work are you developing?
One especially renowned activity is the “Women’s observatory in the energy sector.” We wanted to gather data that made it possible to track the way female presence evolved in the sector. In these studies, which we conduct every two years, we were able to observe a certain increase in female presence. In 2010, the presence of women in the staff of the thirty energy companies consulted was around 23.8%. In 2020, our last reported data, it was 29.4%. There is practically a 2% growth accumulating yearly; however, it is mainly concentrated in technical and intermediate positions.
“We work to help students learn about the different professional profiles needed by the energy sector”
At AEMENER we also conduct studies on employability in the energy sector that prove it is still creating jobs and there is no staff reduction. Another activity of interest is the employment fair we host in cooperation with the Polytechnic University of Madrid. It is focused on students and explains the value of energy in our lives as well as the great opportunities available, from the point of view of employability, in pursuing studies close to the type of demands in the energy sector.
“At OMEL we manage the daily and intraday markets for the Iberian Peninsula"
You are president of the Electricity Market Operator (OMEL). Can you explain what it does?
OMEL and OMIP SPGS are the matrices of a corporate group formed by the creation of the Iberian electricity market operator; that is, the operator for Spain and Portugal. In Spain we manage the daily market and the intraday markets for the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal manages the future markets. On the other hand, we are the majority shareholder of MIBGAS, the gas market, which we also manage. This year, the daily marginalist market that OMIE manages turns 25 years old. If we look back, the first conclusion is that 2020 to 2022 were years marked by crisis situations – COVID and the war – that had never been known in the Western world, and this led to a generation of very atypical price situations.
The prices we have seen were unparalleled in the history of the market. In my opinion, this is not the time to consider a market reform. We have a regulatory scheme that made it possible for 26 out of 27 countries to have the exact same pricing models with the same procedures and the same algorithm. I trust this is a model that will continue in time, because it is probably the element that best brings European countries together in the energy sector, especially the electricity sector.
In an interview, you said you would rather look towards the future. But if you were to retake the position of General Director of Energy Policy and Mines, what would be your priorities right now?
Right now there is an unequivocal priority, basically because we are already seeing that during the central hours of the day the prices tend to sink. With photovoltaic and wind implementation, demand [in Spain] is strictly covered with renewable energies and the prices tend to go down to very significant levels. The prospect, should the renewable power increase be as ambitious as is currently set down in the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC), which is currently under review, can drive us to situations where there is a lot of surplus energy in the system.
“Managing storage and demand is definitely what we must focus on at this moment”
The big challenge we must face, which we have identified for a long time, but for which we have no easy answer, is storage on one hand and managing industrial and domestic demand on the other. Ultimately, we need to make an effort so that demand concentrates around those central hours of the day when the price of electricity will be lower.
You mention renewables, but what do you think is the role of nuclear energy in our country?
Nuclear energy has offered and continues to offer an essential service within the structure of the Spanish electric system. It also guarantees base load energy, which is fundamental to keep an ordered system.
Considering the countries around us, we can say that Spain has some of Europe’s most diversified electricity mix. This is a real asset, because dependency is much more limited, there are no single focal points but different technologies providing all the electric energy we need. And that is where nuclear energy has played a fundamental and very positive role in the past few years.
However, there are plans for the gradual shutdown of Spanish nuclear plants, starting in 2027 and ending in 2035. Do you think this is a wise agenda?
I think the evolution of nuclear energy is a decision that pertains to the site owners and, of course, the governments. If that is what they agreed on, there is not much more that can be said. The initiative, as I said, must come from one or both parties to eventually lead to a review.
“In the energy transition there must be other technologies supporting renewables”
Thank you so much for this interview. What would you like to add?
The concept of energy transition has acquired a renewed sense. After seeing how weak energy dependency makes us, we are forced to make an in-depth reflection. As I understand it, every country makes its own considerations regarding how this transition can be made more viable for its territory. It is true that the renewable potential is very significant in Spain, and thus there is a strong commitment. But we must necessarily speak of a transition because there must be other technologies supporting renewables.