Interview with Dr. Eylem Kaya – WinG Turkey
In this interview by WiNG Turkey, Dr. Eylem Kaya recounts her career in geothermal, the importance of gender equality, and her definition of success.
Born as an idea in 2013, Women in Geothermal (WinG) is a social platform that supports the advancement, professional development and education of women working in the geothermal energy sector. An international community that aims to raise awareness of gender inequality and to ensure equal rights and conditions for all, WinG carries out its activities on a completely voluntary basis and is represented in 80 countries with more than 2500 active members.
In an interview with Aysegül Turan of WinG Turkey, Dr. Eylem Kaya shares details about her career and her experiences being a female professional in the sector.
You have a career journey starting at Istanbul Technical University – Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering department in Turkey to Auckland University – Faculty of Engineering in New Zealand. How did you get a line with geothermal?
When I started at ITU in 1994, there were suggestions to change the name of our department to ‘Petroleum, Natural Gas and Geothermal Energy ‘Engineering’. The curriculum was to cover Geothermal Energy Engineering as well. When I started working as a research assistant in 2000, I got involved in the project of the Balcova-Narlidere geothermal field, which has been utilized for district heating starting from the 1980s as a pilot project and from the 1990s economically. My first practical acquaintance with the geothermal industry started with this project. About six months later, I attended the training course at the Geothermal Institute in Auckland. That’s how my geothermal career started.
How would you explain your research topic to preschoolers?
I am interested in many research topics related to geothermal. One of them is geothermal reservoirs containing carbon dioxide. We can use the analogy of bottled soft drinks while explaining the pressurized reservoirs to kids. Everyone learned new skills in the days of the pandemic. Not as popular as sourdough bread but mine is making fermented beverages at home! I can use a freshly brewed water kefir to demonstrate and explain (video) how CO2 is formed by chemical reactions in the geothermal reservoir, the conditions when CO2 is dissolved in water under high pressure, and its behavior when we drill a well and decrease the pressure, formation of free gas phase and its separation from water. The sudden burst in the bottle also helps me explain the reason for the decrease in the production of the geothermal fields with high CO2 content, like the majority of geothermal fields in Turkey, shortly after they started operating.
What would you advise those who will embark on a similar career journey in geothermal energy to pack first?
Before packing, improve your technical skills! Then take your values, responsibilities, and long-term goals with you! Do not forget the efforts and hopes of the people who supported you! Abundant energy, love, patience, and persistence are also important.
What do you think the future holds for geothermal energy?
When we consider increasing global needs for energy independence and a base-load energy source with a low life-cycle carbon footprint, geothermal energy development and its successful applications will accelerate faster than ever worldwide. The geothermal technology platform will continue to expand and evolve. I expect the following developments in the future;
- More widespread and creative utilisation with the development of technologies that will allow the use of low-temperature sources,
- Expanding direct use, innovations on this subject,
- More widespread use of hybrid energy systems (such as sun, biomass)
- Co-production (mineral, oil and natural gas, hydrogen)
- Supercritical geothermal resources (starting with Iceland, New Zealand, USA, and Japan)
Women in Geothermal (WinG) is a volunteer, not-for-profit organization whose aim is to promote the education, professional development, and advancement of women in the geothermal community. Today, growing to be the single-largest geothermal organization in the world, WinG is being represented with more than 2500 members at 80 countries. How did you become a member of WinG? What are your thoughts on the community?
I became aware of WING with Andy Blair’s presentation at New Zealand Geothermal Workshop when it was first established in 2013. I became a member immediately because I was aware of the need for such a union.
About the community; I think we are all fantastic team players. WING allows all of us to contribute to pioneering a platform for equality globally. I am proud of all WING members for their creative, innovative, and sincere approaches.
Why do you think it important to work for ‘gender equality’?
I care about equality! Inequality is deliberate and systemically created. It is not a coincidence, just like the economic systems that create poverty. If you look at inequalities on race, gender, class, thought/belief, native/local/foreign, they are mainly human-made and exist to take advantage of the “other” ‘s labor and resources.
Today a handful of people own most of the world’s wealth and resources. The power of people has been taken away, and they work all day long for their most basic needs like food, shelter, health, and education. Environmental disasters and wars are also triggered by the same reasons. Due to the climate crisis, everyone is a candidate to be an immigrant. Of course, gender equality is important, but it’s only a small part of the whole picture.
Working to remove biases, prejudice and barriers can create an environment where the PERSON’s abilities are the main focus for their role. If women have the power to decide with their willpower and natural feelings freely, like all genders should, we can have the true diverse voices in decision making process and the solutions created by that mindset.
We met at the World Geothermal Congress held in Australia in April 2015. When we had never met, you came to my presentation and congratulated me afterwards. So it is not surprising to me that you are currently the nomination and membership chair of the International Geothermal Agency (IGA) and have been actively involved in WinG from the very beginning. So why do you care about peer-to-peer communication? Why do you find it important that colleagues support each other?
I remember your presentation at WGC2015 very well. The topic was interesting; geothermal-solar hybrid use. The fact that it was a single-author paper especially increased my interest because it was obvious that it was not your company, not your institute, but your own initiative, your own curiosity to know and to learn sent you to the far end of the world. I was a little late to the presentation, but what I heard when I entered the hall, the messages you gave, and the things you care about in the big picture captured my imagination. It made me realize how much I missed that Turkish university environment that equipped you with this spirit.
When it comes to the point of colleagues supporting each other, I think the geothermal world is a small and delightful community. We are like a large tribe, and these close communications make me happy. We have supportive relations between colleagues and disciplines. This also allows geothermal to take its deserved place in international energy platforms, among other renewable energy sources, besides the big energy giants.
Let’s continue with the question that every woman working in the field has heard at least once: ‘Isn’t it difficult as a woman?’
It is, actually. In most places where I work, women exist because they are strong, they are resilient, they believe they can make a change, and they sacrifice a lot.
Fundamental changes are taking place all over the world, in the roles of men and women. Women have become much stronger economically; they have a direct say in decision-making mechanisms. These changes start in the disciplines where gender ratios are already more balanced. Also, in turn, like a trickle-down system. For example, the priority starts with local, favourably pigmented, and economically strong women. For instance, in New Zealand, the turn of immigrant women from the Pacific islands comes last. It is far from the equality of opportunities or equality of wages.
A few years ago, I listened to a seminar from a female professor in her 80s at the University of Auckland. When she was an equity representative, she worked for years to create a childcare place accessible to women with children who were working at the University. The sad part is the project was closed as soon as she left. Even today, these facilities are only open to those who can pay high fees.
In developing countries, where economic participation is required by everyone, there is less connection between the job you do and your gender. You are evaluated based on your talent, experience, and performance, and as such, there are environments and opportunities that are designed to allow you to contribute effectively. However, in such systems, the patriarchal structure is very dominant. Unfortunately, even the incident of violence against women has not been resolved today.
What are the first criteria that come to mind when you hear the word ‘success’?
Being yourself. Being able to live your life of your own free will and the way you want.
What would be the moments when you felt successful?
The moments I feel successful are the moments when I feel independent. When I talk or make decisions based on the results of my own research. When I can empathize with those coming from very different backgrounds. When I see my research findings are being used with good intentions. When I realize that my social efforts do not go down the drain.
Is there any advice that you remind yourself in difficult times?
Love more, hate less, be free.
If you had a chance to give your younger self an advice, what would it be?
Make more effort to understand people, to learn looking from their perspective! Sometimes you need to ‘let it go’. Keep the flame burning on the subjects you are passionate about. Be more organized! Give more priority to learning technical skills that will make life easier.
Source: Email correspondence