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. Let’s dig in.

Prediction 1: Historic growth in natural gas demand will drive more favorable policy, which will enable more rapid development of natural gas infrastructure and pipelines.

What we’ll see: Early signals show over a 10 percent demand increase for natural gas through the end of 2025, driven largely by international factors. Supply disruptions in Europe due to Ukraine, shutdowns internationally on key nuclear projects, and efforts to move from coal to natural gas both in Europe and the developing world are all contributing factors.

Why it matters: As global demand increases, more LNG export facilities will either be upgraded or built in the United States to increase our capacity to export natural gas to markets around the world. New capital will flow to infrastructure like LNG export facilities, and then the opposite infrastructure will need to be built to take it back to liquid. We are already seeing movement on additional new projects in the US, and expect it to ramp significantly in 2024 and beyond. This demand-side pressure, coupled with the fact that natural gas has made meaningful strides on emissions, will drive a much more favorable policy posture. We believe this will enable the development of natural gas infrastructure and pipelines, and accelerated investment in combined cycle natural gas plants.

Prediction 2: Next year will be the year oil and gas starts to walk the walk when it comes to the energy transition.

What we’ll see: The year ahead will bring a more realistic approach to the energy transition from the big oil and gas companies. We expect to inch closer to consensus in the industry on the need for both improved emissions reduction andincreased diversification in order to meet the expectations of investors and secure new pathways to long-term growth.

While you may hear less about what companies are doing to drive the transition, they will actually be doing more via internal investment, consolidation in the form of M&A, andpublic/private partnerships.

Companies will also invest meaningfully in new technologies to lower their carbon footprints, and for operations of this size and scale, even incremental investments will have significant impact. Expect to see both organic and inorganic development as companies build new solutions internally and either invest in or acquire smaller companies that open up new pathways to emissions reduction, diversification, and ultimately growth.

This will result in even more mega deals as the majors and supermajors compete for a fixed number of assets (see: Chevron’s growing carbon capture interest and acquisition of Hess, Exxon’s acquisition of Pioneer, Oxy’s moves to cement its position as the industry leader in the carbon capture arena).

Why it matters: Make no mistake — we are still operating in a world where a large portion of investments in diversification and emissions reduction occupy the realm of R&D. Testing. Probing what's possible. Companies won't be broadcasting it because they don't know for sure what is going to work. But what we'll see is more of those investments coming to fruition. And while they may be a drop in the bucket for a supermajor, even a small increase in spend for the Chevrons and Exxons of the world will represent meaningful progress on the ground.

Prediction 3: The oil and gas M&A wave will drive massive consolidation on the services side of the industry.

What we’ll see: As larger oil and gas companies acquire companies to secure new assets and build pathways to future growth, consolidation of the leadership teams that manage their operations will have ripple effects. This will significantly impact decisions on which vendors continue to service the operations of the company post-integration. Because of this, the vendors they choose to work with will massively grow as they are folded into the larger company’s operations, while the others will get cut out and see demand shrink considerably.

Why it matters: The services companies who win out will buy up the smaller companies to keep up with growth. Consolidation will shift the balance of power among companies, leaving those that lose out to either drastically shrink or go out of business entirely. As companies consolidate services under their go-to strategic vendors, these same vendors will gain significant pricing leverage over their clients. And more consolidation will mean less competition on the supply side of the equation, which will further drive up costs that are already rising, according to a recent NewtonX benchmark study on the oil and gas supply chain.

Prediction 4: The oil and gas industry will continue to struggle with a broken skills transfer pipeline.

What we’ll see: The industry is experiencing a massive age-out of seasoned employees, coupled with a lack of new talent choosing a career in oil and gas, leading to skills gaps and labor shortages. This is exacerbated by the sector’s longtime reliance on an apprenticeship model. At the same time, the industry is making strides with technology, empowering individual employees to do more than ever before. But these advancements require new and different skills which won't, at least in the next 12 months, help address the root problem here. Until then, these gaps have the potential to drive increasingly unsafe labor environments.

Why it matters: More than ever, oil and gas companies will need access to trusted vendors with experienced talent and advanced technology that can handle complex projects while maintaining the highest safety standards. The industry must stay more vigilant than ever to avoid increased rates of accidents and fatalities in the field due to the continued decline in available, qualified talent. And, of course, it must develop its current employees. Just under half of the respondents in our supply chain benchmark study reported that they were “investing in employee training and development” to meet their most pressing challenges.

Prediction 5: We’ll see the dawning of a nuclear renaissance.

What we’ll see: Nuclear energy will shake off the vestiges of its battered reputation as the public and private sectors begin to see it for what it is: a safe and reliable long-term solution for sustainable power generation. Expect small nuclear modular reactors (SMNRs) at home and abroad to drive nuclear investment and innovation, alongside continued reinvestment in existing large-scale infrastructure.

Why it matters: As nuclear returns to favor, localized nuclear power will evolve in the US. The federal government is already taking more of a pro-nuclear approach, actively investing in and retooling existing plants to increase the facilities’ lifespans. And there is Congressional support on both sides of the aisle. According to a new PEW study, half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and two-thirds of Republicans now say they favor expanding nuclear power. Companies at the cutting edge of this sea change will begin to harness it to make hydrogen.

Prediction 6: We haven’t hit peak coal yet.

What we’ll see: Coal utilization and consumption, driven by the demand from the developing world — Africa, parts of Asia, and South America — have risen over the past 18 months. Expect this to continue. Despite the immense damage caused to the planet by the burning of coal, putting it at odds with the global goal of a sustainable future, countries lacking in sufficient power still see coal as a faster, less expensive way to provide the energy they need to grow their economies.

Why it matters: The rise of coal usage will continue to put us farther and farther behind as a planet until we can offer reliable, cost-effective, and cleaner alternatives. One alternative is natural gas power generation (which creates50 to 60 percent fewer carbon emissions than coal power generation) in the regions where it is needed most. But given how polarized the climate debate has become, only time will tell whether LNG will be accepted as a viable bridge fuel in the court of public opinion

Prediction 7: As our progress falls behind schedule relative to 2050 goals, political tensions will continue to rise.

What we’ll see: We can expect the election year in the U.S. to accelerate the ideological polarization we have endured in the oil and gas vs. Renewables debate. At the same time, the planet will slide on the emissions scoreboard due to coal usage in the developing world, lack of movement on industrial commodities like steel, and the slow march of progress on getting renewable energy sources to be viable from an investment standpoint without the aid of government subsidies.

Why it matters: This will only stoke the anger from the left, and cause the right to dig in even further as oil and gas continues to carry the global energy supply and power the global economy. And paradoxically, if you accept that coal is the single worst enemy of climate progress, the polarization we see will only limit our ability to eradicate coal from our global energy mix. Why? Because there is no cleaner, more readily available alternative to natural gas. And we need comprehensive infrastructure and energy policy reform to unleash U.S. national gas on this global crisis. That’s why we’ve made the case that comprehensive policy reform should be Washington's top domestic priority over the next 12 months. It's crucial for both the economy and our national security.

Prediction 8: The influence of OPEC will be put to the test.

What we’ll see: Production elsewhere in the world, including Canada and the US, will continue to rise, which will challenge OPEC influence. Countries will re-evaluate trade routes and trading relationships due to increased buying options, which present the opportunity to lower costs for domestic consumers, kickstart consumer spending, and increase energy security.

Why it matters: Expect more extreme business and production tactics as OPEC members strain to maintain control of global energy markets. Take note of new alliances and trade partnerships begin to form and watch rising powers make their first moves on the global energy chessboard as we start to see a new world order take shape.

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Joshua Trott and Adam Hirschfeld are executives at Austin-based Workrise, which is a labor provider and supply chain solution for energy companies — including some in Houston.

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Chevron, TotalEnergies back energy storage startup's $15.8M series A

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A California startup that's revolutionizing polymer cathode battery technology has announced its series A round of funding with support from Houston-based energy transition leaders.

LiNova Energy Inc. closed a $15.8 million series A round led by Catalus Capital. Saft, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies, which has its US HQ in Houston, and Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, also participated in the round with a coalition of other investors.

LiNova will use the funds with its polymer cathode battery to advance the energy storage landscape, according to the company. The company uses a high-energy polymer battery technology that is designed to allow material replacement of the traditional cathode that is made up of cobalt, nickel, and other materials.

The joint development agreement with Saft will have them collaborate to develop the battery technology for commercialization in Saft's key markets.

“We are proud to collaborate with LiNova in scaling up its technology, leveraging the extensive experience of Saft's research teams, our newest prototype lines, and our industrial expertise in battery cell production," Cedric Duclos, CEO of Saft, says in a news release.

CTV recently announced its $500 million Future Energy Fund III, which aims to lead on emerging mobility, energy decentralization, industrial decarbonization, and the growing circular economy. Chevron has promised to spend $10 billion on lower carbon energy investments and projects by 2028.

Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

trying for DEI

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

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Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”