Since March 2021, our team in Chile have been working relentlessly in the construction of what will become Sonnedix’s second-largest solar photovoltaic (PV) plant. Sonnedix Meseta de los Andes (160MW) is located in the municipalities of Calle Larga and Los Andes, within the Valparaiso region, just 80 km from Santiago, the capital of Chile.
Spearheading this PV project that is being built within a 250-hectare land is Clémence Picard, our Vice President of Engineering and Construction (E&C) in LATAM.
Clémence, one of our female engineers at Sonnedix, is passionate about the potential of clean energy to change lives and being part of a company that allows her to play a role in the energy transition. But for Clémence, her pursuit of a career in renewables was unintentionally planned for.
Since a very young age, Clémence was gifted in mathematics and sciences. Raised in a family of teachers and academics, she always thought she’d become one. She applied to an engineering university in Lyon – France’s second-largest city. Her plan was to graduate, get her Ph.D., and then teach. However, after realizing that the path of research work was very solitary, she found herself with a master’s degree in Energy and Environment Engineering, navigating the labour market.
“I think my first inspiration was learning about the environment. I was interested in all the classes related to waste treatment, sewage, air quality, and how individuals can contribute to cleaning all the pollution we create” recalls Clémence. “Because of this, renewable energy seemed like the sensible choice to earn my degree in.”
Her first opportunity arose from a renewable energy company in Madrid, Spain. Clémence, who was 23 then, left her hometown in the northeast of France and began her career path managing windfarm, hydroelectric, and solar PV projects and coordinating teams – quickly discovering that she enjoyed it and could potentially build a career in it.
Being trilingual (English, French, Spanish) also gave Clémence an advantage to lead her teams effectively and ultimately would serve her as she evolved in her career and expanded her expertise into other markets, including France and Chile.
By 2016, she moved to Chile, overseeing a portfolio of wind projects within the operations team. Four years later, she joined Sonnedix as VP of E&C, overseeing five project managers responsible for contract negotiation and management of the design and construction of the PV plants in Chile, in addition to making sure the projects are delivered on time, within budget and scope with the collaboration of other team functions in the company.
Clémence and her team have successfully delivered several projects. Still, the most professionally challenging one is on track to becoming the largest in the Central region of Chile and the second largest globally for the company, Sonnedix Meseta de los Andes.
“As a professional, I always look for versatile projects, and that’s definitely the case with Meseta” said Clémence. “We tend to see it from a construction point of view, but project management has a lot of aspects such as permitting, contracts, project finance, technical and transmission setbacks.”
She further acknowledges that Meseta has been a learning curve for her as a VP and personally, but it has been a rewarding learning experience. During the project’s construction phase, she alludes to her personal growth to the Future Shaper Program at Sonnedix, which targets senior-level leaders and, for Clémence, set the foundation for her development in transitioning from managing a team to becoming a leader.
“I allow my team to thrive in their expertise and support their strengths while focusing on mine, which I feel relate more to leadership and coordination. I care about my team and my work very much, and I think it translates to them, as they feel this eagerness to do the right thing.”
Meseta de los Andes is strategically critical, as it will operate closer to the injection point of the company’s Power Purchased Agreements (PPAs) near Santiago. From an engineering point of view, she shared how it’s also a unique project because of the rocky landscape of the site, being at the foot of the beautiful Andes Mountains, as opposed to the flat, desert areas the teams were used to designing and building PV plants.
“The whole team involved in Meseta feels a special bond for the project, as we have all dedicated the past two years of our lives building it, so it’s a big achievement,” she shared enthusiastically. “I feel fortunate to have found a company where I can be a leader, especially as a woman in an engineering role.”
Throughout her career, Clémence confessed that it hasn’t always been easy to work in a sector that remains predominantly male-focused.
She added, “I’ve often faced discrimination, misogyny, mansplaining, and frequently being profiled as a secretary. People have often questioned my skills based on gender, but I’ve always believed that hard work always pays off, which has always been my methodology to prove people wrong.”
Moreover, she feels there is still a culture shock in Latin America for a woman to succeed. Though several companies have established DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) policies to educate individuals on these themes, she feels there is still more work to achieve.
“I have seen efforts to recruit more women in general, but not necessarily more women in management and leadership roles. Unfortunately, I feel that women make more sacrifices when it comes to professional success, especially if they want to have a family.”
As a wife and mother of two young children, Clémence highlights that balancing work and family life seems to fall mainly on the woman. It remains a huge challenge for women wanting to grow in their careers or those interested in sciences, including engineering.
“It’s hard to be successful at both, and I think there is still a huge expectation from society for us to be able to either juggle it all or simply choose, which is really unfair. This isn’t a burden that most men face.”
Nevertheless, she believes the future is bright, and the renewable sector is not only a versatile sector full of challenges and opportunities – no matter your gender or background – but also fun! Many organizations and schools do their part to decrease the gender gap in engineering sciences, although we still see a low rate of female engineering students. At Sonnedix, we encourage girls and young women to engage in STEM education through education initiatives of our Sustainability Academy, and we are fully committed to supporting more women joining the renewable sector, from our recruitment practices to our own internal learning and development programs.
On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). This year’s theme – “Embrace Equity” – seeks to get the world talking about why “equal opportunities are no longer enough” acknowledging that people don’t begin life in the same place, and that circumstances can make it more difficult for people to achieve the same goals. The goal of equity is to change systemic and structural barriers that get in the way of people’s ability to prosper.
Clémence’s story epitomizes how a woman can prevail over society’s preconception that engineering isn’t a field where women can thrive. Hers is one of many success stories from the almost 40% women in our Sonnedix One Team – just within Operations roles (including Engineering & Construction and IT teams), we’ve increased from 14% women in 2019, to almost 30% in 2022.
We know there’s a long road ahead of us, but as with everything, we are here for the long term. In 2021, we were named Solar Gender Champion by SolarPower Europe, and our People team constantly evaluates recruitment practices to ensure that equity and diversity are at the forefront. We strive to become a truly diverse and inclusive company, a workplace where everyone knows they belong and can play a full role in realizing their full potential.
“I hope my story will inspire others to think differently and challenge gender stereotypes, openly discussing discrimination, and drawing attention to bias. Change is often driven by collective action, and the acts we do today pave the way for working women and the next generation of female engineers.”