“What will the grid of tomorrow look like? Alpha Energy hopes to define that”​ – Q&A with Sophie Ribas

Posted / 26th November 2018

Sophie Ribas, Head of Strategy and Partnerships, Alpha Energy


What attracted you to Alpha Energy?


First and foremost, the mission and ambition of Alpha Energy was key. Every time I take a next step in my career or personal life, I try to contextualise and ask myself ‘what contribution can I make towards the future I believe in shaping?’ Our power systems are over a century old. They’ve been formidable in driving socio-economic development, but they’ve also negatively impacted our climate and left over 2.3 billion people without adequate access to power. That’s something that’s hard to ignore and which made Alpha Energy’s ambitious mission to provide clean and reliable power to the next billion people really resonate with me.


Working on something so meaningful, at a time when the energy world is undergoing such a fundamental transformation, also appealed to me. When I started working in wind energy almost a decade ago, we were still trying to prove the value of renewables against fossil fuels. We’ve made such progress since then; costs have dropped, technology has matured, and investments and deployments of renewables have scaled up. Decentralized energy has gone mainstream, and we’re seeing storage and electric transport solutions deployments starting to take off. The question that is coming to age now is how do we adapt our power systems to this incredible penetration of renewable, and increasingly decentralized and mobile energy assets? In those parts of the world where there is less legacy infrastructure and more room for leapfrog solutions, a real opportunity exists to not just adapt, but completely rethink the system around this new reality, in order to provide clean, reliable and equitable access to power. I think this is where more of the exciting and meaningful work is going to happen – what is the grid of tomorrow going to look like? Alpha Energy hopes to define that.


Have you always been passionate about renewable energy?


I first became interested in energy over 10 years ago, while volunteering with microfinance organization Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Spending time alongside micro-loan officers in rural communities, I realized the impacts of lack of electricity on people’s lives, and the benefits of innovative microfinancing schemes coupled with local capacity development to make solar home systems affordable cost-effective solutions. I was also struck by the role which climate events play on the displacement of millions of people, escaping flooded and hurricane-havocked villages where salty seawater has destroyed fertile land and drinking water supplies.  


Shortly after my time in Bangladesh, I moved to China, and there I realized the scale and the urgency to tackle the environmental effects stemming from our energy choices. These experiences proved to be a turning point, both in my personal and professional life and made me want to devote myself to accelerating the development of clean energy solutions.


What is it like working in the Alpha Energy team?


The culture is great. When looking to tackle such big problems, you want to be in an environment that genuinely embraces new and critical thinking and is not put off by non-linear approaches. For me, that’s where I see Alpha offering a privileged environment; untraditional ideas and unconventional approaches are never just shut down, or put on a shelf. It’s unique with a start-up culture that’s nimble and risk-taking but we’re also backed by a huge company with enormous technological expertise. That’s certainly a sweet-spot.


It’s also a driven and dynamic team, which is very diverse in terms of backgrounds. Our growing team is composed of people spanned across data science, power systems engineering, controls and simulation, user research, product design and people that are focussing on ML and AI. That makes super interesting exchanges on a day-to-day and creates an environment where we are constantly challenging and inspiring one another. We also have a rotational programme in Alpha where we can host people from different teams for a day or a few months, and that means our diversity extends beyond our functions. It’s great to get a fresh pair of eyes from colleagues from other backgrounds that can come in and offer new ideas and we benefit hugely from that.


Why should professionals from in or outside of the energy industry join Alpha Energy?

Firstly, it’s truly an exceptional time to be working in the energy field! Power grids around the world are poised for the biggest transformation in their history, and this requires new thinking and bold ideas from professionals coming from both inside and outside of this industry.


Domain expertise is certainly needed and an asset in a team setting out to disrupt an industry. This said, non-energy professionals can bring a fresh perspective, and lead energy experts to question things in new ways. Sometimes, asking the most basic, fundamental questions can can lead us to unpack a problem completely differently, and this has amazing value for our team. We need to feed off of that diversity as much as possible. Alpha Energy provides an environment where that’s possible.


How much progress have we made towards achieving the 7th Sustainable Development Goal?


We’ve definitely made progress but much work remains in order to achieve access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. The share of renewable energy in the electricity sector has significantly progressed and will continue to do so. This is really encouraging, but as last year’s Energy Progress Report points out, we also need to accelerate the greening of the transport and heating & cooling sectors as well as intensify energy efficiency.


When it comes to energy access, we’re seeing grid expansions, off-grid solar home systems and minigrids drive access to electricity, but if we look at electrification gains over the course of the past 8 years, we see that they have been almost entirely offset by population growth concentrated in off-grid and unreliable-grid regions. As for access to clean cooking, progress is particularly lagging. So we really need to ramp up both the scope and the pace of efforts in order to achieve SDG 7. This requires designing and implementing technology, business, social, & policy innovations, and leveraging complementary collaborations and partnerships. Alpha Energy is open to collaborating with researchers, technology disruptors, policy makers, and market actors to really catalyse our progress on the goal.