For more than twenty years, Marzia Zafar (Head of Strategy and Policy at Kaluza) has worked to create and implement policies and strategies that have helped shape the industries that are moving the world forward.
From the Southern California Gas Company to the World Energy Council and from there to Kaluza, Zafar seems to have a holistic view regarding what makes the energy sector tick. And with a strong attitude towards the environment, equality issues and the role of the consumer, she might be just what the sector needs.
By Areti Ntaradimou
“Afghan born, California raised, UK based,” you write in your LinkedIn profile. I cannot help but wonder which one of those 3 worlds influenced you most?
I think each has influenced me in a different way. I would say that my move from Afghanistan to America gave me new opportunities and freedom of expression that I would not have had otherwise. Then more recently, my move from the US to London has given me humility and an appreciation for the rest of the world.
How did you get involved in the power sector and was there ever a time when you got so frustrated that you regretted your decision?
I don’t regret for one day my stumble into the energy industry. During my Senior Year in college I attended a career fair where Southern California Gas Company had a booth. I learned about energy from a company with a strong social agenda, and it was big enough for me to move around and learn about the energy industry from different perspectives. In short, SoCalGas gave me the platform to discover my true passion for local policy building. I think policy and the government’s role in providing a safety net is the crucial first step for any market solution. I feel lucky to have found this work and am never letting it go.
There are a lot of voices in the energy sector that say we could do with more diversity in the sector, both as far as gender equality and inclusion of minorities is concerned. Do you agree?
I agree. We live in a period of increasing globalisation and with that comes a need for people from all backgrounds, of all genders, to drive policy and technology solutions – otherwise we will build an energy system for only one section of the population. Existing solutions in the market are still focused on the early adopter minority rather than the broad spectrum of customers that exist, all with different needs and expectations. If we’re going to succeed in the energy transition, we have to bring every customer along with us.
What is making energy a particularly interesting space at the moment is its convergence with other industries including tech and mobility. I think there is a lot of work for energy and energy tech companies to do in ensuring we are hiring more people from minority backgrounds and make technology careers more accessible for more people.
Has the fact that you are a woman in the energy sector worked to your benefit, against you, or it played no role at all?
Largely, I haven’t felt that my gender has had an impact on my work in the energy sector.
Whether being a woman in this sector has benefited me in any way is difficult to say but I’d like to think that my gender and background allows me to bring something different to the table. More than anything though, I think that my attitude of always wanting to give things a try and my genuine passion for wanting to improve how energy works for society, people and the planet has been the real benefit to my career.
From the World Energy Council and the policy issues / business opportunities, to Kaluza and a passion to transform energy customers from “captive ratepayers to active and engaged energy prosumers”. How did this transition happen?
During my time at the World Energy Council, I soon learnt that in order for us to successfully harness green generation to power society, we must be able to store energy effectively and use it in a far more dynamic way. This idea of system flexibility became an area I developed a lot of experience in and grew increasingly inspired by as a way to transform energy systems in both highly economically developed and less economically developed countries. So inevitably, when I came across Kaluza’s flexibility technology, I fell in love!
I think the ability to intelligently shift energy demand across millions of homes is the key to a fair, affordable energy transition. The energy industry needs residential customers to become active participants in the energy system. Without their engagement, we will not be able to maximise renewable generation or ensure a reliable electricity supply.
And how are you going to achieve this transformation?
Kaluza’s platform empowers and engages customers without requiring them to become energy experts. Using AI and machine learning to optimise smart home device charging, for example across electric vehicles and heaters use, our flexibility technology does what was previously impossible – turning static demand into dynamic demand, shifting load to meet supply and alleviating pressure on the grid.
Customers are paid for sharing their car’s energy, and they can see their earnings increase in real time. The individual device data we share with the customer also means they have access to meaningful insight into their energy use across their home appliances, gamifies the experience by creating competition between them and other customers, and highlights how their carbon output is tracking according to their charging habits. In short, the customer sits at the heart of the platform and their empowerment is key to progress.
What do you believe are going to be the major trends for the energy sector in the near future?
The biggest trend in energy will be this need to shift demand to meet supply. So far, the focus has been on shifting supply to meet demand.
Being able to optimise people’s EVs and heating systems so that they are powered by energy that is taken from the grid at cheaper and greener times of day, is going to be essential in ensuring an affordable, net-zero energy system.
As people buy more EVs and smartconnected devices, our capacity to add domestic-driven flexibility to the energy system will grow. We’ll essentially establish a network of batteries in people’s homes that can, with the right AI-enabled tech, save them money, draw more power from renewables and help balance the grid.
For far too long, customers have been captive bill payers. Energy suppliers have a task on their hands to turn their monthly transactions with passive customers into personalised engagement with prosumers, to guide them in decarbonisation efforts. Realising greener, smarter grids will require digital transformation across every aspect of the industry, from generation, to transmission, to distribution, to what customers see on their phones.
I also think that green hydrogen will play a bigger part in creating diversity of supply once the cost of the technology has dropped sufficiently.