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Getting to know NovoHydrogen’s new Chief Development Officer- Kate Hopkins

We were excited to catch-up with Kate about her development background and dig into hydrogen and her new role as the Chief Development Officer at NovoHydrogen. Welcome Kate!

Where are you coming to NovoHydrogen from?

I began my career post-college as an associate developer at a renewable energy company called Eurus Energy where I picked up the basics of project development. I moved up through the ranks and started taking on projects myself at BayWa Wind. We mostly acquired and built “qualifying facility projects” which were based on an early federal policy called PURPA (Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act) . This meant that our focus was generally smaller and more unique projects. I then joined Tradewind Energy out of Kansas City in 2016 where we initially focused on developing greenfield wind and solar projects mainly in the mid-west with a later focus on the north and southeast of the US. I appreciated that leadership was central in Tradewind’s development process and the ethos was “each developer is the CEO of their project.” This meant that developers were given autonomy and responsibility, as well as the support necessary, to deliver results on time and on budget. At Tradewind this mindset led to best-in-industry efficiency their pipeline moving from concept to operations.

How does that focus on leadership and accountability from your past roles show up at NovoHydrogen?

At our core, NovoHydrogen is a small team that grinds to get things done. That mentality is just as important as the hard skills and supporting tools to successfully building projects. Development requires hard work and we want to empower our team with the resources needed to operate efficiently and effectively.

Some people first think of the Hindenburg when they think of Hydrogen. Can you speak to the development of industry safety standards and NovoHydrogen’s focus on safety?

Electrolytic hydrogen was first produced in 1800 and it has been manufactured and used since the 1930’s; however, most of the focus has been in niche applications, such as submarines and rocket fuel. It is critical that the independent third party safety standard and best practices developed over the past century remain top-of-mind as we scale-up and use hydrogen more broadly. Fortunately, hydrogen is a well-studied and understood molecule and its chemical properties can be used to support safe implementation. For instance, hydrogen is lighter than air and dissipates quickly by rising into the atmosphere in the event of a leak. Similar to gasoline and diesel, hydrogen is also combustible, so ensuring storage tanks are in well-ventilated areas and placed away from combustibles is essential . An important lesson history has taught us about using hydrogen is that the balance of plant equipment must be fit for purpose – I learned recently that the Hindenberg actually used sausage casings to store and transport hydrogen around the ship! Turns out that carbon fiber, steel, and PVC pipes and tanks are much better suited for that.

Why hydrogen?

The historical focus of green energy has been on electrical generation and electron focused. When looking at total greenhouse gas emissions, in the US, the electrical sector is responsible for ¼ of overall emissions. Transportation and heavy industry each contribute about ¼ as well. (Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions | US EPA ) Focusing just on electrons and electricity is missing a huge decarbonization opportunity. In order to achieve ambitious global net zero goals by midcentury we will need hydrogen. This drives my passion in terms of addressing the full picture rather than narrowly focusing on electricity only.

Why now?

The Inflation Reduction Act passing is a once in a generation game-changing event. It will have long-lasting impact for the coming decades and the ability to stack these incentives has an immediate impact. Coming from wind, the impact of this legislation was not necessarily on my radar but it is transformational and can jumpstart our infrastructure to get closer to the progress that has been made overseas with Hydrogen. It really is difficult to overstate the importance and impact this is going to have for the US energy transition

We are also staring at an existential crisis with climate change. By mid-century if we do not make significant changes to how our global economy functions there will be permanent and life-changing impacts. I really see a sense of urgency with the timeline also. We are already a quarter of the way there and building things takes time. For example transmission lines typically take at least 10 years to site, permit and build so in my view we really should have started yesterday. For me personally, I do not want to look back in 20 years and think I could have contributed more.

Why is wind a key piece for renewable Hydrogen?

The main barrier to wide adoption of green-hydrogen is the price. A huge input to that price is the cost of the electricity. A great thing about wind is that, aside from hydro, wind is the cheapest source of electricity…. Period. It is cheaper than natural gas in a combined cycle plant, cheaper than coal, and while it is variable, it is extremely predictable. From a cost perspective wind is a key part of the equation.

A great aspect of hydrogen is the focus on renewable molecules as opposed to electrons. The wind power we develop can go directly into our electrolyzer and we can avoid connecting to, and being reliant on, grid power. For anyone developing in the energy space it is no secret that the US interconnection queues are extremely overcrowded and the timeline makes many projects impossible. With renewable hydrogen we can avoid these overcrowded queues and tap into previously untapped wind potential across the US.

In my past wind development career it felt like my role gradually evolved into just waiting for interconnection permission. When I started developing MISO and SPP wind projects in 2016 that queue study process could take 12 months to 18 months but now that timeline has stretched to a 5 to 6 years! That prompted my move to Flexgen in 2021 where the focus was on selling batteries and software to use them in the most efficient way. In some ways renewable hydrogen can be thought of as a “battery” in that energy is being stored and available to be dispatched as needed. One of the most exciting opportunities with renewable hydrogen is that you are basically taking interconnection out of the equation which allows you to refocus on just developing in the areas with the best resources and closest to offtakers. The level of flexibility and control is extremely appealing!

What are you most excited to work on in the coming months?

With the recent Department of Energy Hydrogen Hub funding, I am most excited to dig into and focus on the environmental Justice and Fairness requirements. There is some great programming around apprenticeships opportunities for folks that have historically not been involved in the clean energy transition to join and earn fair and living wages. I think it is impactful that this is a requirement and not just a differentiating criterion for the Hub money recipients. As a requirement it offers the opportunity to level the labor playing field for a fair and just energy transition. There are more resources to engage more broadly and to those most impacted. For NovoHydrogen this can also be extended to making sure that contractors we work with are committed to paying fair wages etc. I am also excited to engage with students and spark interest in STEM careers when we engage with local communities who will host our renewable hydrogen projects.