Editor's note

Addressing the need for collaboration in Houston's energy transition

The Houston energy transition ecosystem is primed for collaborative partnerships – but here's what to keep in mind. Photo courtesy of Digital Wildcatters

When it comes to advancing the energy transition in Houston and beyond, experts seem to agree that collaborations between all major stakeholders is extremely important.

In fact, it was so important that it was the first panel of the second day of FUZE, an energy-focused conference put on by Digital Wildcatters. EnergyCapital HTX and InnovationMap were the event's media partners, and I, as editor of these news outlets, moderated the panel about collaborations.

I wanted to take a second to reflect on the conversation I had with the panelists earlier this week, as I believe their input and expertise — from corporate and nonprofit to startup and investing — was extremely valuable to the greater energy transition community.

Here were my three takeaways from the panel, titled "Collaborative Partnerships: Leveraging synergy in the energy sector."

Early-stage tech startups need bridges to cross their valleys.

The energy transition is a long game — and an expensive one, as Jane Stricker, executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, explains on the panel. And, just like most startups, the path to commercialization and profitability is long — and definitely not promised.

"When you look at innovation and startups, the multiple valleys of death a startup will go through on their journey, we have to find more ways to bridge those valleys and get more technology to get up that mountain and to a place where it can be scaled," she says.

She explains that corporations aren't always good at innovating, but they are impactful about rolling out de-risked technology at a global scale. But the technology has to get to that point first, so it takes a much earlier intervention for corporates — or another entity, like incubators and accelerators — to help in that developmental process.

"In Houston we have the potential to build out that ecosystem — we already have a lot of pieces in place, so it's about connecting the dots," Stricker says. "It's only by all of the different parts of the ecosystem understanding what each other does and what unique role they play in the process that we can really leverage the strengths of each of them to help create those partnerships and opportunities."

As Amy Henry, CEO of EUNIKE Ventures explains, corporates have their own challenges.

"Energy companies themselves have their own valley of death, and from where they are sitting, that's why they need to collaborate," she says on the panel. "And now we're talking about an unprecedented rate of getting technology commercialized."

EUNIKE works as a go between for corporates — almost as an expansion for them, Henry explains, and they are facing a challenging time too.

"Energy companies are just not early adopters of technology," she says. "But they are also going through their own transformation. At the same time, you've had this huge knowledge leakage in terms of all the workforce reduction."

Startups and corporates speak a different language.

Moji Karimi has had several partnerships with corporations with his biotech startup Cemvita Factory, including a recent offtake agreement with United. For Karimi, it's about learning about your corporate partner.

"In partnerships, especially for startups, you need to understand what is the language of love for the company at time," he says on the panel. "Is it growth, is it perception and PR, is it deployment of capital, or is there a specific bottleneck that we can help remove."

For HETI, Striker says they hope to act as a translator between the two parties.

"How do we enable more connectivity between the companies that have a technology that may be of interest to the larger companies looking for a solution?" Striker explains of HETI's mission. "And how do we make sure industry is communicating opening and broadly?"

Now is the time for action.

For Karimi, the solution is simple: More action is needed.

"Generally, we just need to talk less and do more," he says of what he wants to see from corporates, adding that more checks need to be written.

Based on his own experience, Karimi says some corporates are better to work with than others. He says he prefers working with the companies that don't try to mix in their startup pilots with the "bread and butter" of the business.

"Everyone has so much on their plate," he says, giving the example of Oxy Low Carbon Ventures being an offshoot of Oxy's main business.

Karimi says corporates should think of their startup pilots as an opportunity to try something new and different — something they'd never be able to test internally.

David Maher, business development director of Americas at Linde, says now that there's been regulatory framework, Linde knows what to invest in. The company has a particular interest in hydrogen.

"Another big piece of it is scale," Maher says of what Linde thinks about when considering innovative partnerships. "What's great about Houston is we have density and scale already."

Trending News

A View From HETI

After recently divesting from wind and solar energy initiatives, Shell has plans to quadruple EV charging stations in the next several years. Photo via shell.com

As it downshifts sales of fuel for traditional vehicles, energy giant Shell is stepping up its commitment to public charging stations for electric vehicles.

In a new report on energy transition, Shells lays out an aggressive plan for growing its public network of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs). The company plans to boost the global number of public EV charging stations from about 54,000 today to around 70,000 by 2025 and about 200,000 by 2030.

The projected growth from today to 2030 would represent a 270 percent increase in the number of Shell-operated EV charging stations.

“We have a major competitive advantage in terms of locations, as our global network of service stations is one of the largest in the world,” Shell says in the report.

Shell’s global network of service stations is shrinking, though. In the report, the company reveals plans to close a total of 1,000 gas stations in 2024 and 2025. Today, more than 45,000 Shell-branded gas stations are located in over 90 countries.

Aside from Shell gas stations, the company’s Shell Recharge business unit operates public EV charging stations along streets, at grocery stores, and at other locations in 33 countries.

Shell, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston, is ramping up its EV charging network amid forecasts of slowing demand for oil and rising demand for EVs. Other than EV charging, Shell is focusing on biofuels and integrated power as components of its revamped product mix.

“Shell is well positioned to become a profitable leader in public charging for electric vehicles, meeting the growing demand from drivers who need to charge on the go,” the report says.

To accelerate its EV charging presence in the U.S., Shell in 2023 purchased Volta, a San Francisco-based operator of EV charging stations. Shell says it now operates one of the largest public EV charging networks in the U.S., with more than 3,000 charging points in 31 states and another 3,400 under development.

“The availability of charging points will be critical for the growth in electric vehicles,” the report says.

Last month, Shell divested from a solar energy subsidiary, before later announcing an exit from a wind energy joint venture.

"In-line with our Powering Progress strategy, Shell continues to hone our portfolio of renewable generation projects in key markets where we have an advantaged position," Glenn Wright, senior vice president at Shell Energy Americas, said in a news release at the time.

Trending News