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

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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