Interview with Mona Dajani of Shearman & Sterling | Global Trends in Green Hydrogen & EVs
Mona is the Global Head of Renewables, Hydrogen and Ammonia and the Global CO Head of Energy and Infrastructure at Shearman and Sterling.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me, Mona Dajani. Mona is the Global Head of Renewables, Hydrogen and Ammonia and the Global Co-Head of Energy and Infrastructure at Shearman and Sterling. And she’s joining us from New York today. Thanks for being part of this.
Mona: Thank you so much, Catherine. I’m super excited to be here and speak with you. Thank you for the invitation. It’s exciting.
Catherine: I’m a big fan of yours, Mona. Because ever since I moved back to the States a few years ago, you were one of the first people that was very, very kind to me. And so I’ll never forget that when I was. Nobody knew who I was.
Mona: Now you’re super famous celebrity status. Yes. I do think it’s very good to be kind. To people getting off topic a little bit but it’s an overlooked quality. And I find that in the UK where you are coming from, when I first met you, I just thought you were a very kind person. You are a very kind person. And I saw that in you and that was kind of what started our friendship.
Catherine: Thank you. I really appreciate that. So first, I want to congratulate you on your new role. For those who don’t know, introduce yourself, please and tell us about your new role in the company.
Mona: Sure I have been practicing law for over 20 years, and I was given an opportunity to lead globally at Shearman and Sterling, which is an international law firm. They’re headquartered in New York, but they’re in a lot of major cities all around the world. It’s a global international platform. They put their money where their mouth is in terms of the investment obviously, in the space and I was very excited to come here and I came here with some colleagues of mine. And also I have some new people that have joined me and on the team too as well. So super excited.
Catherine: This is an organization that has a lot of women, I believe.
Mona: Yeah, it sounds, I mean, it’s a law firm.
Catherine: Yeah. Like a lot of women compared to other law firms, perhaps.
Mona: Yeah, there’s a lot of women there’s a lot of women leaders. Yes at this firm. It’s an old firm we’re celebrating 150 years. That’s pretty old for the US. And it’s known as a premier Wall Street law firm. and so very excited to embark here and be here and be supported. And looking forward to growing the clean energy team here.
Catherine: You have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and MBA, and a JD. Which is a combination I don’t come across too often. How did you make your way from engineering to legal within the renewable space?
Mona: Well, a lot of people some people don’t know this, but a million years ago I went to college, the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana, which has the best engineering schools in the country, and I went to school there and I got a degree I had a double major so I was doing economics engineering. And I went to school and then I worked as an engineer for less than a year. I hated it. And that’s when I decided to, I gotta do something else. So of course, I went to law school, so it was like, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was all by accident, that it all happened. And now, part of my success is that I have such a diverse background. I’m an engineer, chef, and sommelier. And that’s really helped a lot. It really has because a lot of what I do, there’s like a physic scientific engineering aspect to it on top of, commercial or state of the economics and then legal so I look at a transaction very holistically. And also so just so I approach it differently, and I think that has been part of my success.
Catherine: You focus a lot on hydrogen projects throughout your career, particularly outside the US. How much do you think the IRA will help accelerate hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen in the US.
Mona: It’s a game changer, globally. I mean, huge. We are the only country in the whole world that is offering the most tax incentives and other credits to encourage and develop green hydrogen. Canada just came out with almost a copycat of what we’re doing here in the US, but not as good. And then and it’s still brand new. I mean, it was just a few weeks ago. And then there was also a push by the EU to also have standardized hydrogen credits, still, not as robust as we have here in the United States. And then there are certain countries around the world like Portugal and Spain and Germany and Denmark, also in Asia, Japan, Korea. And the Middle East, Oman and Dubai and KSA. Saudi Arabia. So they have their own country wide hydrogen incentives. None of them, none of them are law. Like we have here in the United States. The IRA is here for 10 years. It’s not going away. No matter who’s the president. So it’s a huge game changer. And it’s not just hydrogen. It’s also like we just heard today, the EV credits. That was something new. We got more regs on that. Really, the push here in the United States, from the Biden administration, is to create jobs to go and to transition, at least in the United States more to a netzero economy. So it’s a game changer. And I’m very proud to be an American. Very proud that this was able to be passed by the administration.
Catherine: Yeah, I’m so glad that you highlighted that. Because I was not aware of that. Like I worked with some Ambient Fues, you know, Jake Sussman, those guys in the green hydrogen space and that’s really all that sort of dealings I’ve had. So I didn’t realize there was so much positivity going around with these tax credits I had so thank you for letting you know that. We’re just going to get back to that EV point that you made as well earlier about the news today. You’ve said before that Norway has an 82% EV adoption rate whereas the US adoption rate is just 8%. What do you think the impact of the IRA will be in terms of EVs in the US?
Mona: Well, I think that we’re slowly and gradually adopting here in the United States to more EVs. The conversion rate is happening. It is coming. It happened quicker in Norway because they had, frankly, more incentives. And, but there’s they’re here now in the States and I see that it’s going to happen. The conversion rate is already happening. We’re seeing it, we’re seeing also, a lot of and I think this is important, too, people say they have range anxiety here in the States because they’re afraid if they go on a long trip they’re not going to they’re going to run out where they’re going to find gas or whatever. We’re helping a lot of utilities, also get into the action with helping either build some of the infrastructure we’re putting deals together, where we’re putting both EV manufacturers and a lot of EV manufacturers by the way here in the States. We call them Ice manufacturers meaning the internal combustion engine, like GMs, the Fords and Chevrolets and they all have their own like EV divisions or separate companies, but their subsidiaries you know, so it’s happening. I think we have some unique challenges here in the United States with respect to the space that we have. Also the price of gas while we’re seeing it increase, it’s not like it is in Europe. That’s also another piece . That’s all putting together but I do think that we’re going to see as a result of the IRA and these incentives, we’re going to see more conversion and it’s just going to be, it’s going to keep on increasing here to the States. And by 2030 we will have more than 80% conversion to EVs.
Catherine: It’s funny, I just got an EV a few weeks ago, it was a nine month wait, and I think it’s been really kind of interesting. It’s a bizarre feeling not to go to the gas station anymore, I have to admit. Like I’ve been going since I was 16 to the gas station. It’s sort of I keep thinking “I need gas; no I don’t need gas”. I think what I’ve been surprised about is how little I have to charge. I think I was under the impression in my head for some reason, like I’d get home and I would charge the car. I’m charging the car like once every week and a half and I’m driving to from DC fairly regularly. You start to realize like the miles become realer like you’re more aware of the miles but actually, it’s not as many as I thought that it was. It seemed like I was going more miles because it was costing me a lot to fill up my tank and I know it’s not as much as Europe, but just um I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how I don’t have the anxiety that I thought I might have had.
Mona: Yeah, and depending on what type of car you have if you have EV you know there’s some that are fast superchargers too as well. And I have to tell you, like I’m working on a lot of deals where we’re working with major gas station chains, and they’re having EV chargers too as well. We’re working with shopping centers, data centers, big urban apartment complexes too as well. And it’s really attractive. It’s also attractive for businesses, whether they’re tenants, or commercial or residential, or whether their customers like shopping centers, or data centers. And then what we’re doing is we’re monetizing those tax credits. I mean, we’re stacking the credits on top of the other. So anyway, it’s just really great. I hope you’re telling everyone your experience. I remember in the early days of when Whole Foods was around, I would go grocery shopping and I felt good – and I was okay with paying a little more because it was organic. And I knew that it was good and I kind of feel a little the same way with EVs too, right now.
Catherine: I think you’re right. It’s spreading like the gospel if you like. I live in an area that’s like new builds and like sort of saying to the developer, like I had to actually get an EV charger installed. Proactively, why aren’t we installing these and all the houses, this is just getting them thinking about it, because so many people are going to now have to retroactively go and replace the outlet in their garage. So, I want to talk a little bit about some of the projects that you’re working on that you’re most proud of.
Mona: Okay I would say that some of them I can announce and tell you some of them I can’t and the ones that are all super exciting are the ones that I because they haven’t been to fruition yet. Yeah, nothing gets me happier than a win-win for everyone. So what I love to do is take all the different counterparties that were so diverse, put them together and show them how we can all do good together while saving the planet. Everyone could still make money. While doing it. And each of you are bringing your advantages to the table, whether it could be money, it could be capital, it could be infrastructure, you already have the infrastructure or land already there. It could be the know how for development. It could be technology. The most exciting ones that I’m working on now are combining offshore wind and solar to make hydrogen and then the hydrogen can be used to fuel ships or fuel trains or field trucks. Those kinds of projects are the most that really jazzed me, really get me the most excited and I’m also working on cutting edge, clean energy. I mean, I have been one of the pioneers in clean energy for a long time. I mean, 25 years. I have been doing this for a long time, and I was doing this before, when it was fringe. People were like, Why are you doing this? do oil and gas, do LNG, that’s what you should be doing. And I said I really want to focus on I’ve nothing against oil and gas. I still think we need it by the way. We’re not ever going to not have it. We’re not going to eradicate it now, so I want to make that clear. But I did want to make a difference. I wanted to combine all of my areas of expertise, engineering, math, Economics and Law, and make a difference. So I’ve worked on projects, I’ve led projects all around the world. That’s one of the reasons I’m at a big international firm in Saudi Arabia, in the UAE, Oman and Tokyo in Africa, in central South America. All over the United States and Canada. So it’s been really fulfilling and super excited and I’m just with this IRA being passed now, I just see this as like an amazing revolution where we’ll look back at this time and say with our green industrial revolution, it’s that major.
Catherine: I totally agree with you. I think it’s so so so exciting. Especially from a jobs point of view. Good time to be in the space. So what are you most looking forward to working on in your new role and in the years to come?
Mona: I am very excited about all the new technologies and green hydrogen, with EVs, with ammonia even. I love combining solar and wind. I love now that we have recyclable wind blades. I just love to see the technology evolving and bringing down the cost so that it’s easier for developers to scale. So that more people can benefit. So that’s really what I’m most looking forward to. And I’m looking forward to having more of these technologies like mainstay. It’s not fringe anymore. I have to say I’m disappointed in the United States that our EV usage rate is so low, we should be higher, should be, and we’re not. But I’m hoping that that conversion rate is going to change. I know it will. I’m super jazzed about all the new smart technologies that we’re combining with clean energy and clean tech, because I think that really is going to be the future. And we’re not just talking about saving the planet. We’re also talking about energy security. We’re talking about a new global realignment with the G7 countries and others. I think that energy security, as we see what’s happening with Putin in the Ukraine, unfortunately, he’s weaponizing energy and all of the different types of sanctions that we have put on Russia. We were able to see, this last year, who our friends are. I’ve got to say I’m a little bit surprised about who is still taking advantage of this really unfortunate war situation that’s going on with Ukraine. So I do think it’s really important for global security, energy security, as well, in the midst of this global realignment where we are now.
Catherine: As far as the trends are concerned, other than what you’ve already spoken about, are there other key trends that you’re seeing renewables. So for example, are you seeing an increase in interest in things like carbon capture floating solar, energy resiliency, maybe changes in supply chain or deal growth?
Mona: Yeah. Oh, wow. Yeah.Of course, you hit it on the head, Catherine.
Catherine: Nailed it! Lisa DeMarco, let’s give a shout out to our marketing manager.
Mona: Yeah, all of those. We’re doing carbon capture, floating offshore wind. Offshore wind in the United States is new. In Europe it’s been around for a long time, and I’m glad now that we’re finally learning from mostly the European developers that are coming here. And we’re doing that; we have so much great space. So for offshore wind, I’m working on a number of projects here in New York, as a result of the new laws that were implemented, and there’s new things happening in California too, as well. So I’m very excited about that. All the carbon capture projects that we’re also combining with others to monetize a tax credit, super exciting, but everything you’ve mentioned, yes, I’m excited about all of those. And I hope to see more, and I hope to see the cost go down. We see innovation and then what I see is that it will be the conversion rate, more and we definitely need to work here in the United States as well on increasing the transmission and distribution lines here too, as well.
Catherine: What do you think it takes to be successful in your role and what advice do you have for others looking to follow in your footsteps?
Mona: Okay, that’s a good question. I would say, probably the biggest thing is you have to stay up to date on everything on all the developments that are happening. A lot of reading too. I’m always as you know, Catherine, I’m out there a lot. I’m speaking, I’m at conferences. I’m on TV. I’m in the paper. So I do think it’s good to be out there too, as well. And to have a pulse on who you want to represent. And also, to be successful, you have to work very hard. It’s also fun. It’s also very fulfilling, and you need to be resilient. You need to be able to get up and whatever that song…
Catherine: Brush your shoulders off.
Mona: Yeah! Be resilient and get up and you’re gonna get rejections. You’re gonna get some things that you did not anticipate or want to happen. And you just have to plow forward and not lose your sense of self and your sense of where you are in the bigger picture. And I do think it’s also important to have a good support system and to have an outlet whether that’s working out or cooking or something where you’re okay. It was funny, my doctor tells me that I’m one of the few attorneys that’s not that’s not taking any drugs. I didn’t know there was such a high usage rate. So I think that that’s also important. I also think it’s important to give back and to teach others and to be humble and grateful.
Catherine: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. And I look forward to seeing all the great work and announcements and CNBC. cameos that you’ll be doing.
Mona: Catherine as usual, thank you so much. I’m so thrilled to be here and to spend a few minutes with you today on your show. I’m really honored. Thank you and very grateful.