This story is part of H2 View’s monthly Women in Hydrogen series, created in partnership with the Women in Green Hydrogen (WiGH) network, which profiles women in the hydrogen industry.
Nanna Baldvinsdottir is an energy economist working on putting Iceland’s cost-competitive, green hydrogen to use, in Iceland and abroad. She holds more than 15 years’ experience in the energy sector, serving in numerous roles relating to the energy transition in Iceland before founding IðunnH2, a hydrogen projects developer comprising the entire value chain from production to end use.
US-raised and educated, Baldvinsdottir, CEO and co-founder of IðunnH2, said she was bitten by the “hydrogen bug” four years ago and has been working towards its wide-spread adoption ever since.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to H2 View today Nanna. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about some of the other hydrogen roles you’ve worked in, and something you learnt during your time in these?
I worked in the business development team at Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland, where I was blessed with supportive management that allowed me to really push for hydrogen and e-fuel development in Iceland. It became crystal clear to me while there that you cannot get anything up and running on hydrogen, unless you take a value chain approach. The production of hydrogen is on the simpler end of that value chain, whereas hydrogen transport and end-use are more complicated and multifaceted.
It motivated me and one of my co-workers to start IðunnH2, a company devoted to linking the hydrogen value chain, both within Iceland and abroad. We’re seeing too many projects fail because revenue streams aren’t sustainable after the initial subsidy is gone. IðunnH2 is conceptualising the entire value chain, then bringing partners together on the basis of a sustainable business model.
Casting your mind back to the start of your career, at what moment in your life did you decide that clean energies, and hydrogen in particular, were of great interest to you?
I had a real lightbulb moment in college, but not regarding hydrogen in particular. My lightbulb lit up while sitting in a global economics lecture during my undergrad studies, and it happened around power prices. I realised that if power systems are to be transformed, the financials have to point decision makers toward transformation and it’s the role of policy makers to use the tools available to make that happen. Otherwise no changes will take place. We are witnessing this today in a historical way, with this policy-led, explosive growth in hydrogen investments. When I was young and full of hope, I wanted to design those policy tools. Now that I’m older and full of hope, I want to use them.
What has it been like as a woman involved in this sector? Have there been any challenges you have faced? If so, can you tell us a more about these?
In the grand scheme of things, I’m incredibly blessed. I was born in Iceland, one of the best places in the world to be a woman, to educated parents who taught me that dreams are meant to be realised and lives are meant to be used for good. That is a starting point that already put me at a huge advantage compared to most people in the world and I remind myself every day not to take that for granted.
That being said, of course there are challenges to being a woman in a male-dominated sector. I’ve had to fight harder to prove myself, I’ve lost internal company battles to men who are neither as well informed nor as well intentioned as me, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to sit and listen to a presumptuous man explain things to me that I am an expert in.
Clearly, we have a long way to go before gender equality is reached and bias ceases to be a ruling factor in effective decision-making. But pity is an exhausting space to live in, if that’s where you choose to move in and make your nest. If you hit a wall or get knocked down, which is of course bound to happen, you get back up, shake yourself off, and shift focus to where you can affect change and positively impact others. To me, that’s the most rewarding way to live.
With those challenges in mind, and any others that you feel other woman in the sector may face, what is one piece of advice you would give to yourself if you could go back and start your career all over again?
Accept the help that’s offered. Because I was always so fiercely independent and determined to prove myself, I was reluctant to rely on external help. Now my ego is healthy enough that I can admit to my own limitations without feeling like my strengths or talents aren’t valid or sometimes even extraordinary. I also know now that when I want to help others, especially young women, that desire is not sprung from some visible fault in the person I’m helping. On the contrary, it’s because I have faith in their talent.
So to anyone coming up in this business, but especially young women, accept the help that’s offered by the people that truly see you and what you’re trying to accomplish.
What is the best part of being a woman in this evolving sector?
Hands down, it’s the complexity. It is a blessing and a thrill to be able to strategise to solve problems that must be addressed and have never been tackled before. Whether that’s because I’m a woman, I don’t know, but the skills gained from being a homeowning, career-oriented single mom surely don’t hurt.
Tell us about one woman who has positively impacted you in your career? What lesson did she teach you?
I have been lucky enough to work with a number of clever and encouraging woman through the years. I will say that the positive impact they can have doesn’t stop, even as you advance in status and authority. Just a few years ago, one of my brilliant former co-workers at Landsvirkjun rattled my cage a bit in a private discussion in the ladies’ room during a company cocktail, sternly telling me to, ‘Stop waiting for all conditions to be perfect to make bold moves and to start seizing every opportunity to do so.’ She said that’s what the boys do, and that’s what we need to do, too. She was right, and that really sat with me. I’m incredibly thankful to her, not only for these encouraging words, but the many others she offered throughout our years of working together.
Most of the professional support and guidance I’ve received has been from men. I would not be where I am without a slew of brave, brilliant and unbiased men that have selflessly pushed me along throughout the years. We ladies need to appreciate them and lift them up at every opportunity.
Finally, if you could share just one hydrogen-related message with our readers, what would that be?
Find the people that are ready to take action and work with them.