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Google's geothermal plant goes online, 2024 industry predictions, and more trending news

Fervo Energy's facility for Google goes online — and more trending energy transition news. Photo via fervoenergy.com

Editor's note: It's been a busy news week for energy transition in Houston, and some of this week's headlines resonated with EnergyCapital readers on social media and daily newsletter. Trending news included eight industry predictions for next year, how United Airlines got into sustainability, and more.

8 energy industry predictions for 2024 from oil and gas experts

From coal and consolidation to LNG and policy reform, here are eight predictions for the energy industry. Photo via Getty Images

We hate to start with the bad news, but let’s get it out of the way. As we look to the year ahead, we see numerous challenges for the industry, from labor and geopolitics to OPEC and continued polarization in Washington. Times are complicated, and nothing looks to be getting simpler.

But there’s good news, too. Natural gas use is booming, and the production, transmission, and processing companies that move decisively here will see substantial upside. Additionally, those who diversify their businesses can get in early on new ventures and accelerate their progress — see Devon with Fervo in geothermal. Local nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture all represent similar opportunities.

From our vantage point working with many of the biggest operators and suppliers, we’re seeing activity that will have major ramifications for the industry in the coming year.

Here are eight predictions about what’s around the corner — the good, the bad, and the hopeful. Read more.

Houston geothermal company's Google facility in Nevada goes online

Fervo Energy's Project Red with Google is officially operational. Photo via blog.google

Google is on a mission to run all of its data centers and office campuses on constant carbon-free energy by 2030, and the tech giant is one step closer to that goal.

Last week, Google announced that its 24/7 carbon-free energy, or CFE, in Nevada to power its local data center in the state is officially operational. The facility is powered by Houston-based Fervo Energy's geothermal technology, a project — called Project Red — that began in 2021 and celebrated its successful pilot this summer.

"When we began our partnership with Fervo, we knew that a first-of-a-kind project like this would require a wide range of technical and operational innovations," Michael Terrell, senior director of energy and climate at Google, writes in a blog post about the partnership. Read more.

Why Rice University is 'deeply connected' to Houston's energy industry

Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, shares how the school is intrinsically and intentionally linked to the Houston energy community. Photo courtesy Annie Tao/Rice University

Houston is known as the energy capital of the world, and the industry is ingrained into Rice University's DNA — especially the university's business school.

"We are deeply connected — and have been for a long time," says Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business. "One of the five pillars of our strategy is to be the leading business school in the country for the studying and the advancement for the energy transition and decarbonization of the economy. We think we can be the premiere school for training people for this rapidly evolving field of energy and to promulgate great research." Read more.

Sustainable biotech company to test hydrogen production technology with global chemicals leader

Two Houston companies have partnered up to explore gold hydrogen technology. Photo via cemvita.com

Two Houston-area companies have announced a strategic partnership to test a unique hydrogen production technology.

The Woodlands-based ChampionX Corporation (NASDAQ: CHX) and Gold H2 Inc. entered into the partnership on November 9. GH2, a subsidiary of Houston-based Cemvita, provides tailored subsurface microbiology solutions by harnessing the power of microorganisms to enable in-situ hydrogen production from depleted oil and gas wells. Read more.

How United Airlines got into the sustainable energy biz

Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, says it's his job to accelerate the airline's mission to decarbonize operations. Photo via LinkedIn

While someone might not immediately make the connection between aviation and the energy transition, United Airlines understands the importance of more sustainable fuel — and has put its money where its mouth is.

According to an International Energy Agency report, the aviation accounted for 2 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions last year. Earlier this year, United Airlines launched a fund that called for collaboration across the industry.

After only five months, the United Airlines Ventures Sustainable Flight Fund SM increased to nearly $200 million and added new financial partners, airlines, and more. The fund takes on funding from its 13 limited partners and exists separately from United's core business operations. Read more.

Trending News

A View From HETI

This latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. Photo by Eric Turnquist

On the evening of May 16, a devastating “derecho” storm howled through Houston. Nearly 800,000 customers lost power. Many were still without electricity days later, as a heat wave baked neighborhoods that couldn’t power air conditioners.

It was yet another unwelcome reminder about the precariousness of the power grid.

These outages followed repeated grid warnings, conservation calls, and near-misses last summer and the summer before, as well as the catastrophic Winter Storm Uri freeze in February 2021.

The outages also preceded the increasingly extreme weather Texas faces and staggering growth on the ERCOT grid: after growing about 1 percent a year for 20 years, the power grid covering most of Texas may need to be 78 percent bigger by 2030.

So, this latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. It also shows that more and more, the state needs you to act.

Like any other market, a power grid runs on supply and demand. The supply of Texas energy is growing, which is great. At the same time, the economy is booming, leaving Texas setting demand records almost constantly. Generators can’t always keep up, especially when power plants break down or don’t produce electricity — there’s about an 18 percent chance that Texas will face at least one grid emergency this summer.

With odds like that, it’s no wonder that more and more Texans are finding ways to live more powerfully. Many are investing in solar panels and energy storage devices like Tesla Powerwalls.

These systems let families and business owners generate electricity during the day, store it, and use it later when there’s an emergency or just when power is scarce. They protect people from high bills and blackouts; it’s no coincidence that just since last month's storm, we've seen a five-fold increase in leads, reflecting a huge growth in interest in solar power. Further, since the storm, 90 percent of new Houston-area solar customers have bought backup battery systems, compared to 50 percent in 2024 and less than 25 percent in 2023.

That pattern has repeated across the country after severe weather events.

Homeowners and business owners can also slash their bills by weatherizing houses and buildings, the way power plants did after Uri. Advanced devices that help people automatically, and voluntarily, reduce electricity use when the grid is stretched would also help.

These improvements and investments would help more than just homeowners and business owners — they’d help the entire power grid. Every kilowatt that someone doesn’t need or can generate themselves frees up power for other families and businesses across the grid. That helps Texas keep the lights on, especially if electricity demand is about to spike as dramatically as the state expects.

Texas already incentivizes conservation and generation at a large scale. For example, large users like manufacturers and crypto miners get paid by ERCOT for reducing electricity use when the grid is stretched. And just last year, the legislature passed a $10 billion program to help fund new gas power plants.

It’s past time to extend similar incentives to everyday Texans, especially when we’re increasingly called upon to help ERCOT keep the lights on.

If crypto companies get money for reducing electricity use when ERCOT asks them to, then residential and business customers deserve to get paid too. The state could help Texans invest in technologies and smart metering programs that cut bills andautomatically reward people for reducing use on the hottest afternoons and coldest mornings.

More than that, the state has got to do more to reward solar customers who generate electricity and return it to the grid when demand rises. These virtual power plants will increasingly provide vital power when the state badly needs it, and consumers need to be rewarded for it. (Fortunately, the state is looking at strategies to take better advantage of virtual power plants.)

Finally, if Texas is helping big generators build gas plants, it should figure out ways to help regular Texans install solar panels and battery storage units. Such systems obviously help protect Texans from power outages, but they also fortify the ERCOT grid by reducing the demand on it.

Last month’s derecho was exactly the sort of freak occurrence that will become more common as the weather grows more extreme. The best way to protect the grid from such catastrophes is to protect individual Texas customers as well.

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Bret Biggart is CEO of Freedom Solar Power, a Texas-based solar company.


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