Sharon Tomkins Q&A: Leading the Energy Transition
Sharon Tomkins serves as Sempra Energy’s vice president of sustainability, helping lead the company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts to create long-term sustainable value across stakeholder groups. This includes the role that Sempra Energy’s infrastructure plays in transitioning to a net-zero future, while working to maintain affordability, energy resilience and energy access to developed and developing economies.
She previously served as vice president of strategy, engagement, and chief environmental officer for Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), one of Sempra Energy’s regulated California utilities.
Learn more about Sempra Energy’s sustainability strategy in this Q&A with Sharon Tomkins:
Sempra Energy will release its 2020 Sustainability Report next month. Can you share some of the sustainability accomplishments Sempra has made over the past year?
Across our family of companies, we are actively working to address the impacts of climate change and lower emissions by connecting communities to lower-carbon energy sources. For instance, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E) and SoCalGas began a Hydrogen Blending Demonstration Program, the first of its kind in California. The blending of hydrogen with natural gas is one part of our overall strategy to decarbonize the natural gas grid. Both utilities also invest in clean transportation technologies and infrastructure to help further reduce emissions.
Sempra also began a partnership with the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, granting $2 million to fund its "Sequestering Carbon Through Climate Adapted Sorghum" project, part of the Institute's Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI). This project has tremendous potential to reduce carbon levels globally.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our 19,000 employees have shown great resiliency in delivering cleaner and more reliable energy to over 36 million consumers across North America — and for that I couldn’t be any prouder of the work we’re doing.
How does the global energy transition underway impact Sempra Energy’s business decisions?
Over the next 30 years, energy systems will need to change dramatically to meet local, regional, and global climate goals. This includes a universal focus on decarbonizing the industrial, transportation and power generation sectors. These sectors account for more than 32 gigatons of energy-related emissions. Decarbonizing these sectors means that grids will need to expand, along with zero-carbon electrons and molecules working in tandem — an effort Sempra is actively working towards each day.
There is a critical need to build a new global energy system by the middle of the century. To get there, we are prioritizing sustainability in our everyday business operations, which is a natural extension of our mission to be North America’s premier energy infrastructure company. We are investing in critical transmission and distribution infrastructure to connect our North America customers to cleaner and more reliable energy. Our LNG business advances global energy diversity and improves energy access around the world. By leveraging our core competencies in innovation, operational excellence and stakeholder engagement, we are helping lead the global energy transition.
What are some key sustainability trends and initiatives you’re following?
We see three key trends as critical to the global energy transition:
- Decarbonization: Reducing the carbon content of energy is central to decarbonizing the industrial, transportation and power generation sectors. Over time, the electrons and molecules we deliver to customers will need to become less carbon intensive.
- Diversification: Bringing new lower- to zero-carbon fuel choices to every market is a central part of the global solution, coupled with expansion of distributed networks and storage to improve resiliency.
- Digitalization: Improving operational efficiency, safety and service will turn on the integration of real-time information and cutting-edge analytics, benefiting network operators and consumers.
The Sempra family of companies continues to decarbonize our business operations and the markets we serve with a view towards advancing a net-zero future. We are focused on staying on the leading edge of the most salient opportunities before our industry.
Prior to your role as Sempra Energy’s vice president of sustainability, you were a practicing lawyer. How has this experience helped you in your role?
As a lawyer, you are taught to think critically about issues and evaluate all angles, including the strengths and weaknesses of any position. This has certainly helped me when thinking about the risks and opportunities associated with creating long-term sustainable value for the company.
More specifically, much of my legal career has been focused on the energy sector. In fact, a piece I wrote on the Department of Energy as a summer associate helped me get my clerkship with the Honorable Danny J. Boggs with the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Prior to becoming an appellate court judge, Judge Boggs served as Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Energy.
I also represented several clients, including Sempra Energy, during the California Energy Crisis when I was an associate at O’Melveny & Myers, and helped to establish the firm’s Energy, Natural Resources & Environmental Sub-Practice Group when I was a partner at the firm. I also developed and taught the law school class, Energy Law, Policy & Climate Change at UCLA when I was a Partner at O’Melveny.
March is International Women's Month. As a Woman in the energy sector, what does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
To me, embracing diverse perspectives is critical to any company’s success. By analyzing our business decisions through a multi-stakeholder view, we can anticipate how our actions affect our customers, investors and others. So, when we have diverse viewpoints at the table — whether that’s diversity of gender, ethnicity, age or other backgrounds — we can see new ways to strengthen our company and have a positive impact on the communities we serve.
Sempra is committed to creating an inclusive culture where all perspectives are valued. Even though the energy sector is a traditionally male-dominated industry, Sempra has always made me feel welcomed and respected. It’s one of the many reasons I love working here.