Q&A

Houston founder on why geothermal is a 'cornerstone' tech for energy transition

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Cindy Taff of Sage Geosystems explains why she's so optimistic about geothermal and her company's technology. Photo courtesy of Sage

Geothermal energy is an integral part of decarbonizing the energy industry, and Sage Geosystems CEO Cindy Taff believes her company's tech has what it takes to lead the way.

Founded in Houston in 2020, Sage Geosystems is focused on two business lines — energy storage and geothermal. In addition to developing these technologies, Taff says Sage has "cracked the code" on both reducing costs and maximizing electricity output. Sage has customers ranging from Nabors, the world’s largest land-based drilling company, and Virya LLC, an investor in climate ventures with high impact of eliminating global greenhouse gas emissions or sequestering CO2

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, she explains why she's so optimistic about geothermal and her company's technology.

EnergyCapital: Why do you believe geothermal has a major role to play in the energy transition?

Cindy Taff: Geothermal energy is not just a contender in the energy transition; it is a cornerstone. The question isn’t if we can drive down the costs to be competitive with wind, solar, and natural gas—it’s when. As renewable credits for solar and wind begin to expire, these industries will face the reality of their “real costs.”

As a 24/7 renewable energy source, it provides a constant and reliable power supply, unlike the intermittent nature of solar and wind. Moreover, the rising costs of lithium-ion batteries, driven by the increasing scarcity of lithium and cobalt, further underscore geothermal’s economic viability.

My extensive experience in both geothermal and the O&G sector is a testament to the synergistic relationship between these industries. The skills honed in O&G are not only transferable—they are essential to advancing geothermal technologies. In summary, the O&G industry can make a huge impact to geothermal by systematically driving down costs while scaling up, which is exactly what we did for unconventional shales.

EC: When it comes to finding partners or investors, what are you looking for? What should potential partners/investors know about Sage?

CT: Our technology is ready to scale today, not five to 10 years into the future. We will deliver our first energy storage power plant in 2024 and our first enhanced geothermal power plant in 2025. We are looking for synergies with investors, such as companies with power market or O&G expertise.

In addition, we seek to partner with others who have local content and relationships in places around the world to enable us to quickly and broadly scale our technologies. Sage's technologies are extremely flexible, in that we can deliver energy storage or enhanced geothermal to the utility grid or behind-the-meter to targeted commercial customers, including a dedicated microgrid (i.e., for the U.S. Air Force). Our technologies can provide electricity to remote locations such as mining operations or to large population centers such as Houston, and everything in between.

EC: What's the biggest challenge Sage is facing as an energy transition startup and how do you plan to tackle it?

CT: A common misunderstanding about Sage is that we only do energy storage or that we only do geothermal. However, we do both and the technologies build on one another. Essentially, our energy storage technologies will allow us to "walk" before we "run" with geothermal. On a related point, at this point in the energy transition, time to commercialization and affordability of new clean technology are the leading factors in terms of climate impact. As the first geothermal company to deliver a cost-effective commercial enhanced geothermal system, we are poised to truly make a meaningful difference.

EC: As a woman in a male-dominated industry tackling a global problem, what's been your biggest lesson learned? What's your advice to fellow energy tech female founders?

CT: In my journey as a woman in the energy tech industry, I’ve been fortunate to focus on the work and the global challenges we’re addressing, rather than on any gender-based obstacles. My biggest lesson learned is that innovation and leadership know no gender. Success is driven by perseverance, vision, and collaboration.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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