Page Hero
March 13, 2023

Women's History Month: Women who shaped the energy industry

Submitted by sempra_katie on

This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting four trailblazing women whose work has advanced renewable energy and energy efficiency. These inspiring women, from engineers to scientists, helped lay the path for Sempra and its family of companies to advance electrification and promote energy diversification, resiliency and affordable access to cleaner forms of energy.

Edith Clarke

“There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work.”

A woman of many firsts, Clarke was the first woman to earn her master’s in electrical engineering from MIT in 1919, and later became the first female electrical engineer in the United States in 1922, employed by General Electric. She invented the Clarke Calculator, which helped solve electric power transmission line problems. This tool became the first step toward “smart grid” technology we know today. Clarke later became the first professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) in 2015.

Maria Telkes

“It is the things supposed to be impossible that interest me. I like to do things they say cannot be done.”

Maria Telkes, nicknamed as The Sun Queen, was a Hungarian-born American physical chemist and biophysicist. In 1924, she moved to Ohio and joined the Cleveland Clinic Foundation as a biophysicist where she developed a photoelectric device to measure brain waves. During World War II, Telkes developed a solar-powered water desalination machine which made seawater drinkable for U.S. soldiers. Telkes later created a solar-powered oven and worked with the U.S. Department of Energy to create the first solar-powered home in 1980.

Lei Cheng

“With so much intense research effort and huge capital investment in research and development [for solid-state batteries], I believe we will get there.”

Dr. Cheng is a chemist and energy storage researcher for Argonne National Laboratory and the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR). Passionate about working toward a cleaner energy future, Cheng helped create the Electrolyte Genome database, which helps scientists identify and select molecules suitable for next-generation battery technologies. Her research at Argonne National Laboratory is a game-changer to electrifying the transportation sector and integrating renewable energy onto the electric grid. Dr. Cheng won the Midwest Energy News’ 40 under 40 award in 2018, which recognizes emerging leaders in the Midwest for their contributions to the United States’ clean energy economy.

Hazel R. O’Leary

“In the public sector I’ve regulated industry broadly. In the private sector, I’ve been forced to live with those regulations and, perhaps more importantly, I’ve seen how those regulations — if not carefully crafted and balanced — can impact jobs and lives and economies of people who expected and hoped for better from their government.”

The honorable Hazel O’Leary was the first female and the first African American U.S. Secretary of Energy. During her time as the Secretary of Energy, O’Leary pushed for more Department of Energy funding for renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. O’Leary also started the Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence Professorship in Environmental Disciplines which benefited nine historically black colleges and universities. In 2004, she became president of Fisk University.

References for this article include information posted to the websites of the U.S. Department of Energy, Edison Electric Institute, National Argonne National Library, The HistoryMakers and Edison Tech Center.