Interview with  Aletta Filippidou

Interview with Aletta Filippidou


I studied Geology and Geophysics in Athens, Trondheim, and Brisbane, obtaining a PhD from Delft.

Since joining Shell in 2006, I held various positions and worked on projects from all over the world, most recently as subsurface lead for projects in the New Business Development department. In fact, you may say that for some countries I know more about the subsurface than what lies above ground. At the same time, I have travelled to several countries, on all continents, pursuing connections with people and their stories. Studying social structures and geopolitics helps me think laterally and keep my feet on the ground. I regularly give lectures and workshops or write about various topics related to energy, geology, science, and gender equity.


Due to the on-going conflict between Ukraine and Russia, the topics of gas supply and energy sources is extensively discussed in media. What impact do you think this war is going to have in the energy transition? Will accelerate it or will push Western European countries back to old sources of energy?

The challenge is how to overcome the energy supply disruption and at the same time achieve a greener more sustainable future. In May, an early analysis by McKinsey, investigated the three main blocks needed for the energy transition; technology innovation, supply chains enabling the deployment of new technologies and resource availability. Of these three blocks, two have been substantially compromised.

Russia is in the top 5 countries in the world for production of oil, gas steel, nickel, aluminium and other mineral and metal commodities. The war in Ukraine has disrupted both the oil/gas supply chain, directly affecting oil and gas prices, as well as energy-transition commodities (minerals and metals). Therefore, it’s not only fossil-fuel based economies that are being directly affected, but also those with green aspirations and targets, who suddenly encounter price point increases; also known as “greenwalls”.

Meanwhile, crises historically have accelerated solution-finding; 19th century naval wars accelerated wind to coal-powered vessels transition, oil replaced coal in WWI, nuclear energy was introduced in WWII. Today we see strong economies like Germany having already almost halved their dependence on Russian oil and gas, advocating for hydrogen use ramp-up. The EU, just few weeks after the war started, expressed bolder ambitions for clean hydrogen. However, when faced with power shortage, countries have indeed (re)turned to fossil fuels.

Thus far in 2022, there is no indication of additional climate commitments ahead of the COP27 climate conference in November ‘22. It seems to me that now, seven months in the conflict, the energy transition is disadvantaged due to energy-transition commodities bottleneck, and that soon we will need to urgently accelerate. I will be looking for sufficient commitment from public-, private- and social-sector leaders to recognise that significant investment needs be allocated to achieve decarbonisation and climate ambitions.

Finding new sources of energy will be essential to ensure the energetic independency of Western European countries. Which challenges and opportunities does this situation offer to geoscientists?

I am compelled to compare the energy crisis to the recent pandemic. The medical science reacted fast and efficiently, resulting in the development of several vaccines to protect the public against the virus.

Attempting to draw a parallel; to the extent that geoscientists are involved, solutions can be and are being delivered in a timely manner, to address short-, medium- and longer-term needs. To name but a few; reservoir management optimisation efforts are intensified, gas projects are expedited, new oil & gas discoveries are being made (which will take time to bring on stream), new large geothermal projects are being developed, and these only few of the many areas were geoscientists are currently contributing.

Helped by high oil prices, we witness new supply chains being formed (see for example latest US LNG products arriving to Europe). The fact of the matter of course is that the energy demand needs to be covered today, and implementation of new technologies, alternative routes, let alone new sources of energy will take time. Sounding cliché, it is true that every crisis presents opportunities despite the challenges. The energy crisis management besides being a “technological” issue, it is primarily a political and economic one.

“The energy crisis management besides being a “technological” issue, it is primarily a political and economic one”

This conflict also questions the energy security of many countries from Europe. What does “energy security” mean to the average citizen? Is there any difference between the impact to women and men? We see that price of energy is skyrocketing, and many countries already talk about energy-poverty. Do you think this prices will keep growing? Is energy a luxury?

Prices started rising mid-2021, when world economy, following COVID-19 restrictions relaxation, started recovering. Before supply chain and markets restabilised, Russia’s invasion in Ukraine intensified the price increase by disrupting again the supply chain. In Europe, we have had additional difficulties; summer ’22 was unforgivingly warm and dry, especially in the south of Europe, causing lower energy output from hydroelectric plants, while other powerplants had limited uptime due to maintenance or other issues. The European winter is approaching and combined with the general market uncertainty, it is quite likely that prices will remain high; the question is for how long.

At the moment of writing (Sept ‘22), EU Commission has just announced its decision to intervene. Each country is encouraged to implement appropriate measures to meet energy consumption targets. Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries stimulate individual responsibility while others adopt more punitive strategies. It is a social experiment that I’ll participate with great interest; the variable measures, the implementation and the final result.

Electricity prices increase is felt directly by the consumer, across Europe, intensifying inequities among member States. Indicatively, in January 2022, the MWh in The Netherlands, cost less than 100 Euros, while in August it peaked at 600 euros per MWh. Similarly, in the South of Europe, let’s take the country I grew up as an example, Greece, the January ‘22 price was 200 Euros/MWh, and reached 700 Euros/MWh ned of August. Simultaneously, inflation increased further impacting consumer goods pricing. Add to this the purchasing power index; The Netherlands ranks #4 in Europe, while Greece #31. In 2021, according to Eurostat, on average, 1 in 5 Europeans was at risk of poverty or social exclusion; again, there is a disparity across Europe: 17% in The Netherlands and 28% in Greece. Numbers are expected to be worse for 2022. It is tough for every European country but for some it’s tougher. Are we looking at a period of stagflation and for how long? Time will tell.

It is well established that women and minorities specifically, experience disproportionally the ripple effects of crises in general. This case is not any different; again Eurostat data show that women are at higher risk of poverty or social exclusion, largely due to lack of financial resources.

Affordable energy is not luxury, is necessity and a human right. In 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations unanimously voted for the Sustainable Development Goals, one of them being affordable and clean energy (SDGS 7) as necessary for “for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”. In fact, energy affordability and availability are intimately linked with most of the UN Sustainable Goals and indispensable for enabling and achieving them.

“Affordable energy is not luxury, is necessity and a human right.”

In your opinion, how does this situation affect young professionals? Will higher energy prices encourage more stable work conditions? What kind of advice would you give them when facing the job market?

My general advice to young professionals is “just do it”. Network, network, network. Meet people, ask questions. Test your assumptions and test them again. Go out there and explore, see what fits you the most, what makes you happy, bring your whole self where you would like to contribute. Remember, we need diversity, not replicas.

Currently there is war for talent, hence opportunities are plentiful. Companies are upping their employee value proposition. COVID-19 normalised remote working, hence digital nomads don’t need to be disappointed. We face big problems, and we need all talent we can get.

“Energy affordability and availability are intimately linked with most of the UN Sustainable Goals and indispensable for enabling and achieving them”

To conclude the interview, we would like to talk about inclusiveness in Geosciences. Both gender and culture inclusion in technical and management jobs seems to be a long way down the road. What are the major improvements you have noticed during your career? What best practises do you think should be further implemented in academia and industry?

Just imagine during a family dinner, telling your mom or your daughter “you worth less and have less opportunities than dad or son, because you are born that way. Could you please pass the salt now?”. Because this is what statistics are still saying and I find it inconceivable. The business case for diversity is well established (recognising that inclusion is far more than the male-female gender, or culture). I am proud to work for a company where cultivating awareness is high priority. However, companies in general still haven’t sorted it out; goals, targets, hiring processes, mobility, opportunities, timing. We are just not there yet when it comes to equity and parity.

In Geosciences, female enrolment has increased since early 2000s; about 50% of students and graduates (from BSc to PhD) are female. Attrition remains a problem accentuated by the recent pandemic; see global data on job loss, the post-covid Great Resignation and an already strained and leaky talent pipeline to name but a few aspects. Bias remains a problem; whether it is affinity, cultural or gender, it simply means that bosses tend to hire like-minded people and since most hiring managers are men, well, you get the point. On the other hand, there is increasing visibility and focus on gender, driven by the realisation that we need all help we can get if we are to solve the Big Problems. There are several sources of inspiration, role models, allies, and initiatives. I find it inspiring when my male colleagues set their dad-stay-at-home days as boundary condition. More power to them and their partners!


Any other thoughts that you would like to add as closure to this interview?

Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts; I hope I get challenged and learn more. We really live in a very interesting period. We are just coming out of a collective shock; more than 25 million people died, while successful vaccines were being developed at record speed. We now face energy supply crisis and climate change; the UN Sustainable Goals are more relevant than ever. We now discuss more; from climate change and nature-based solutions to energy supply and the fragility of geopolitics, from equality to equity to the importance of mental health, and so much more. Our positive traits emerge; solidarity, humility, empathy, vulnerability; we remain inquisitive, we demonstrate strong drive for innovation in collaborative environments, we partake in cross-border booming communities. We recently changed the course of an asteroid and Perseverance will surely make more extraordinary discoveries on Mars. United, we make things happen. Yes, I am optimistic; the future is bright.

“United, we make things happen. Yes, I am optimistic; the future is bright”

Interview by Andrea Cuesta Cano

“This is interview reflects own views and opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Shell, neither does the interviewee speak on behalf of Shell”


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