Interview with Marion Hill, SVP of Renewable Advisory for North America at DNV GL

Interview with Marion Hill, SVP of Renewables Advisory for North America at DNV GL

How has DNV GL been able to attract new hires that are roughly 40% racially diverse & 50% female over the past several years? I spoke with Marion Hill, SVP of Renewables Advisory for North America at DNV GL, about the effective diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives DNV has been implementing & why; what it’s been like to be a female engineer in the clean energy industry for over a decade; DNV’s impressive recent work with ENGIE & more:

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Catherine: I’m Catherine McLean Founder and CEO of Dylan Green, and today I have with me Marion Hill, Marion is Senior Vice President of the Renewables Advisory for North America at DNV GL and she is based in Montreal, Canada. Welcome Marion!

Marion: Thank you Catherine, for the invitation. 

Catherine: So Marion is my first guest outside of the U.S. so very excited! 

Marion: Excellent opportunity! Different perspectives, all part of different perspectives. 

Catherine: Exactly, exactly. So with over 13 years of experience at DNV GL, you’ve gone from an independent engineer and Senior Project Manager to Vice President of Project Development in Engineering to the SVP of Renewables Advisory for North America. What would you say are the top requisite skills to succeed in project development in our industry?

Marion: I think one of the first things is really being open to new challenges. Companies right now, in our industry, have so much opportunity to grow. So when we do have leaders that step up, that want to have a new challenge, they are really readily given that opportunity. So it is just that openness, that desire to take on and lead. I think secondly, it’s the willingness to learn. Our industry is changing so quickly right now, whether it’s in terms of technology, in terms of contract mechanisms, in terms of off take structure or digitalization, it’s that willingness to continue to learn and push yourself beyond what you know, to think about things differently and be open to new ways of solving problems. 

Catherine: Yeah. I want to talk about women in engineering. So you’re obviously an engineer. What’s it been like for you as a woman working in engineering in our industry? And have you seen much progress over the years, with more women pursuing engineering?

Marion: So the renewable industry, particularly, is younger and more progressive and has always attracted more women. When I have gone to oil and gas type industry associations versus renewable energy associations, there’s always more women in it. So it has been a very welcoming industry from that perspective. And we are evolving in the terms of the number of women within management positions or board positions. There’s still progress to go but one of the metrics that I like to look at is whether my new young hires out of the university, do they see us as a challenge, are they being well accompanied and accepted and see their career progression. Are they at a point where they don’t see being a woman as a part of our industry as a problem or a barrier, and that they have equal opportunities, I think that is where we are starting to get success. So that is really motivating, to see that our young female engineers are seeing equal opportunities all the way through. That is something that I am really proud of what we have accomplished as an industry.

Catherine: What are some specific ways DNV is addressing gender. So, for example, from 2013 to 2020, you all have increased women in management by about 7%, and roughly 50% of your new hires have been women, which is about 20% higher than your percentage of female employees in 2013. What are the most impactful ways that you’ve been addressing gender Diversity Equity and Inclusion? Whether it’s been through unconscious bias trainings, or mentorship programs, DEI commitments, etcetera? 

Marion: I don’t think that there’s one meaningful way to impact diversity. We really have to be pulling on all of the levers that we have access to. On the recruitment side, it’s so essential to get a diverse set of candidates applying to a position. So right in the job description it is different, when I’m posting them on Rise, I’m taking the extra time that it takes to ensure that the candidate who which applying is diverse. On the professional development side, yeah it’s mentorship, it’s adequate providing training opportunities for candidates or employees that want firm training, and not just to learn on the job. It’s breaking down the barriers that women so that women don’t see each other as competition but as allies. So that is something that we have been working on for the past couple years, is building up that allyship amongst women, particularly when we’re in that 20-30% range, we can be naturally more competitive. So that is something that I haven’t necessarily seen done as well across, or identified necessarily as a point, but it is something that we have been working on. Then, all the way through, there’s getting people on speaking spots, there’s presenting salary differences so that we are getting the entire opportunity to attract, retain, promote and keep great candidates, across the category. I think that there is another point of having more females in management is enabling that different work day or different work week. Whereas, when I started, I saw multiple females drop out of the industry because they couldn’t work full day weeks, enabling that to happen and recognizing that it is a challenge, and it does keep our women and their diverse perspectives in the labor force is so critical. 

Catherine: I want to talk a little about increasing racial Diversity Equity and Inclusion at your firm. What are the top priorities and why? What are some notable successes and advice that you can share?

Marion: So the energy transition is complex. Our industry is disrupting the established industry and we are being disrupted. So we need the best diverse perspectives that we can get to help us win in this transformation. That does require having racial diversity on our staff. We have been hiring about 40% people of color for the past couple of years, however predominantly, Indian and Asian staff. So we have been building up our networks with African Americans, blacks. We’re posting our jobs on the National Society of Black Engineers, and trying to ensure that when we are posting positions that we are posting outside of our standard networks and trying to attract others. The candidates, the talent, is out there, it’s finding a way to bring them into our industry.

Catherine: Talk to me a little bit about industry trends, I want to talk about hydrogen. Everyone is talking about hydrogen at the moment. It’s the buzzword I keep getting asked about. So I want to switch topics a little bit and talk about that. I noticed that you all have recently launched a hydrogen industry consortium. What role do you think hydrogen currently plays, and will play in the years to come, as far as decarbonizing our energy as quickly as possible?

Marion: Great question! Hydrogen is starting from a very minimal amount of our energy system, it’s really going to start to grow in about 2025, and then become, by 2050, 5% of the energy mix. It’s going to be used in heavy vehicles, in deep sea shipping, in heating for buildings, particularly in countries that already have established gas networks. Right now we are predominantly grey hydrogen, although we are moving to blue hydrogen which is made from natural gas, and then eventually we will be able to make it, potentially by 2030-35 economically, predominantly from green hydrogen. So, directly from renewables. So we have a transition happening. From the steam within reforming to the electrolyzers. But there are a couple of projects right now, wind and solar projects, that are already demonstrating renewable green energy to hydrogen. Right now they are on island nations or projects that are really really far from their transmission grid and so instead of building out into a transmission line they are generating hydrogen. So those are some of the exceptions that we have right now, but as these prototypes continue to be built out, and we get the electrolyzers cost down, then we will be able to bring more hydrogen to be part of our energy system. By 2050, we do see hydrogen coming in as an energy storage mechanism, and really enabling the greater partition of renewables on the grid and actually charging hydrogen on a daily basis when we have a peak amount of sun to grid. 

Catherine: So, the last question I have for you is, I was really impressed when I read about DNV, your tax equity deal with ENGIE Affiliates, earlier this year, which consisted of 2 gigawatts of new renewable energy generation capacity. I believe it represented one of the largest tax equity and finance transactions ever in the U.S. market. What are some projects that you’re working on that you’re the most proud of and why?

Marion: Yeah, that ENGIE transaction was something that we’re really proud of, it included 1.5 gigawatts of wind but also 500 megawatts of solar, and to have all of that coming together at the same time was critical. There were so many people involved in getting this thing together at the same time. But the other one that we are really interested in, because of the impact that it has on decarbonizing our energy systems, is the solar market. The solar market is a maturing market, and right now there are literally hundreds of solar developers, and there is a consolidation happening. As we see big oil and gas companies, private equity firms, investments coming into the solar space, and so there is a huge consolidation of solar platforms and so we’ve worked on over 40 gigawatts of solar MMA this year, so that is a tremendous amount of data, for benchmarking development operations of solar assets, but it’s demonstrating the rate of pace of change in the solar industry. I think the other one that’s really exciting is storage PPAs, whereas in wind and solar, the power purchase agreements have typically been the least negotiable contracts and storage the most negotiable. So really coming in and sitting at the table to negotiate some of the terms and really defining the various different applications for storage, because it is very different, whether it’s on the wholesale or retail sale side, or being used from the utility, or from a private independent power producer, it’s just really changing in a way that these contracts are being designed and implemented is really exciting at the moment. 

Catherine: Well, thanks so much for your time and it was great learning more about you and your business. 

Marion: Thank you, Catherine.