• Nóirín Byrne
  • 4 min read

To celebrate International Women’s Day this Sunday the 8th of March, for the next week we will be featuring women in the Irish energy sector who are contributing daily to Ireland’s clean energy transition.

Today we are featuring SEAI's Gillian Gannon, Programme Executive for Communities

Q1. Tell us about your current role and how it relates to the energy sector.

I am a programme executive on the Communities programme in SEAI. The programme is designed to catalyse communities to take action in terms of their local energy by looking at opportunities such as energy efficiency, renewables and smart technologies.  It helps communities learn what is possible and best for them, make a solid energy plan, and then participate in projects. The idea is that communities become active participants in the energy transition, and my role is aimed at helping them identify these opportunities and knowledge gaps, especially when it comes to energy planning.

 Q2. What inspired you to get into this area of work? 

I studied geography and sociology in college, and specialised in the environmental subjects. I was particularly interested in how climate change and society interact. I originally wanted to be an environmental scientist, however, my first job after my Masters was a temporary position in SEAI, and I ended up staying.

 Q3. What is your professional background? 

My professional background is more in the environmental/soil testing side of things, which is why I went on to do my masters in environmental science. I like to think I’m a scientist at heart, but working with people has proven to be my strength and working in community energy has really opened my eyes to how much we need human solutions to the energy transition, not just technological solutions.

 Q.4 What was your first role? 

After college, the only full-time job I could get was selling sports footwear (it was peak recession). Like so many others in 2011, I emigrated to Australia to get some work related to the environment. There, I worked as a soil/environmental technician on a LNG site in Western Australia.   

 Q5.What do you enjoy about your current role?

I am constantly learning in this role. Both the people in SEAI and the communities we work with have a range of experience, ideas and ways of working. The energy landscape is also changing a lot, with new policies, technologies and public demand. There’s rarely a dull moment.

 Q6. How does your role impact people/society? 

I work directly with community groups around the country who are trying to become sustainable in their energy use. Through our work with them,  they are making informed decisions for their specific community. Every community  is different. This should eventually result in healthier buildings, reduced energy bills, and less carbon going into the atmosphere from  fossil fuels.

 Q7. What do you hope to achieve in the future? 

I will be starting a new role with the Climate Action Unit in the Taoiseach’s department soon, which is an exciting change of pace. Although I won’t be working directly with communities anymore, I’m hoping to bring that experience to this new role.  

 Q8. What advice would you offer women hoping to join this sector?

It’s really important that a wide variety of skills, experience and perspectives are brought to the sector. So no matter your skill or your background, you’ve something to bring to it. I’m sure my sales skills from my sports footwear days are serving me well in some way!  

Q9. What advice would you offer women in the early stages of their career in this sector?

It’s a very dynamic sector, which can be both a good and a bad thing (more good in my opinion). Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to be thrown at you, so you need to be adaptive. But there are  lots of opportunities for new roles and to make your voice heard. If you are thinking of joining the sector, it helps to be flexible in some ways and assertive in other ways.  Experience over time will help you refine when these ways best suit the situation for you. I’m certainly still learning!