sunny days

Houston charges up new program to help locals buy and install affordable solar panels

Going solar is now easier thanks to city and federal help. Photo courtesy of Houston Solar Tour

Alternative-energy-seeking locals now have a sunny way to buy into a solar. The City of Houston has launched Texas Solar SwitchHouston, a new program aimed at helping Houstonians purchase and install rooftop solar panels and battery storage.

In partnership with Solar United Neighbors, the Solar Switch program offers hassle-free way to purchase solar panels by creating a massive, group discount for residents, be it home or small business needs.

This comes with the new Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy incentives and is part of the City of Houston's Climate Action Plan goal to generate 5 million MWh per year of local solar, per a press release. Customers who install solar also receive a 30-percent tax credit, thanks to the The Inflation Reduction Act.

Registration for the program is free and available online. The City of Houston assures that there is "no obligation for homeowners to purchase solar panels." Discounts and installers are determined through a competitive auction process, per the City.

"With energy prices increasing, homeowners and small businesses are looking for opportunities to save on their energy bills and increase their resilience to climate-related events," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "Texas Solar Switch Houston provides our community with a simple and straightforward way to become better informed about solar energy and access a competitive offer from a vetted, experienced solar installation company."

Signed and passed into law by the Biden Administration in August, the Inflation Reduction Act will invest some $369 billion in domestic energy production and manufacturing with a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. That federal mandate means locals can now take steps towards power backup, while potentially easing up on the beleaguered Texas grid.

“More and more Houstonians are looking to solar and battery storage for self-sufficiency, which has the added benefit of making our grid more resilient,” said Hanna Mitchell, Texas program director for Solar United Neighbors, in a statement. “With the recent passage of the IRA, now is a particularly good time to go solar.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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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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