How can Houston's energy transition be built with the city's communities in mind? Through trust, public education, and intention, according to a panel of experts. Photo via Getty Images

As the energy sector transitions toward a more sustainable future, a Houston organization is driving forward the idea to do so with a community-based approach, as some experts discussed at a recent breakfast panel.

The Center for Houston's Future hosted a breakfast discussion on August 10, entitled "Building a Community-Based Approach to the Energy Transition," sponsored by BP Energy. The conversation covered various ways corporations, organizations, and individuals could work together to build this approach, including through education, upskilling, collaborations, and more.

Photo by Laura Goldberg/Center for Houston's Future on LinkedIn

The event kicked off with a keynote address from Brad Townsend, vice president of policy and outreach at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, who set the scene for the discussion.

“The energy transition offers an opportunity to build a thriving, just, and resilient net-zero economy that can benefit companies and communities alike" he says to the crowd. "It’s the chance to raise jobs standards and safely through local and federal policies, employ a practice change, cross-sector collaboration, and worker training.

“It's also an opportunity to diversify the workforce to better reflect local communities, including in Houston," he continues. "If we approach this engagement however as a box checking exercise or unwilling to really provide communities an opportunity to help shape projects, we’re destined to fail. Being genuinely open to feedback from communities and actively incorporating them into the decision-making process is foundational to generating the community buy-in that will be crucial to a successful energy transition.”

Here were some of the key takeaways from the event.

"When we talk about Houston we need to be cognizant that it is a huge geographical area, and you cannot speak to Houston as a monolith. You can't even speak to individual communities as single entities."

— Anne Bartlett, vice president of industry and community resources at Brazosport College.

"Our responsibility is to recognize and really understand our communities not just from labor market data perspective, but also by having conversations with people who know what’s happening on the ground," she continues. "Our charge is to recognize that yes, this is a regional opportunity but it really does need to be situationalized in our specific communities and recognize the strengths and the opportunities that are present in all of those."

"One of the opportunities and challenges that's part of this massive energy transition, which I think will not only bring about investments of billions of dollars but potentially trillions of dollars, is to utilize these significant investments as an opportunity to not only transform how we make, use, and transport energy, but also uplift these communities that are adjacent to the facilities where hydrogen and other resources will be will be produced."

— John Hall, president and CEO of Houston Advanced Research Center.

"We (need to) use this entire transformational effort to open the doors of opportunity for every community," he adds.

“While it is the right thing to do to bring in the full breath of diversity that we have, it's (also) absolutely necessary.”

— Mark Crawford, senior vice president at BP Energy.

"We're in in Houston. We are the most diverse city in the United States, and the United States is becoming more and more diverse," he explains.

"It is important to bring holistic solutions to communities. ... We can't do everything, but there are organizations working on the ground that are doing really great work. It's about companies going in and partnering with stakeholders on the ground who understand the communities so that we are bringing these wrap-around services."

Crawford continues, noting that it's on companies like BP to tap into and support local entities.

“There's a fundamental shift that needs to happen in the way that we're talking about these jobs to really encourage young people to take advantage of resources that are made available, because we can integrate that into the educational curriculum, but unless students and young people are willing to move in that direction it's not going to make a difference.”

— Townsend says on the panel, addressing the sentiment that young people are told job security comes only with a college degree. The panelists agree this isn't the case anymore, yet that message is still being conveyed.

“I think it's really important to pull back and recognize the opportunity that's in the K-12 space — not only with the children and making sure that they're aware that these careers even exist, but perhaps just as importantly with their parents.” 

Bartlett says, adding that these kids will be the ones in thes jobs in 10 or so years, so that message needs to start being conveyed now.

“All of these things cost money. There are dollars that are out there right now that we are not leveraging — there are dollars that are available through the Texas Workforce Commission, through Chambers of Commerce. So, we're not talking about having to reinvent the wheel and having to go to our industry partners with palms up, we're talking about leveraging the resources that are already out there in a wiser way.”

Bartlett says about the feasibility of workforce development programs.

“It would be unfortunate — (and) it would be potentially catastrophic — if we see the trillions and trillions of dollars invested over the next 20 years, and we have left behind 25 percent or more of citizens.”

Hall says, emphasizing how important working with communities — and hearing their concerns — is to this process.

He later adds that he's worked with community leaders, and he knows they are optimistic — as is he — about this process. “These are not peculiar human beings. They have the same hopes and dreams that we have, and if we will take the step to just reach out and connect and communicate with sincerity, then those barriers are easier to overcome.”

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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.”

Houston organization celebrates zero waste goal

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Discovery Green celebrated Earth Day with a major milestone this year — achieving it’s Zero Waste goal.

The nonprofit, along with Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and Houston Public Works, are announced that the 2024 Green Mountain Energy Earth Day, which generated more than 3,800 pounds of garbage, diverted the majority of that waste from landfills. "Zero Waste," as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is successfully diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill.

On Earth Day, Discovery Green composted 2,200 pounds of waste and recycled 1,300 pounds of trash.

“Part of Discovery Green Conservancy’s mission is to serve as a village green for our city and be a source of health and happiness for all. Our goal is to sustain an exceptional environment for nature and people,” Discover Green President Kathryn Lott says in a news release. “We are beyond thrilled to have achieved Zero Waste certification.”

The achievement was made possible by volunteers from the University of Houston – Downtown.

Steve Stelzer, president of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition’s board of directors, acknowledged how rare the achievement is in a public space in a major city like Houston.

“Discovery Green Conservancy stepped up and made a commitment to weigh, measure and record everything. They should be congratulated to have done this at this scale,” Stelzer adds. “The Conservancy said they were going to do it and they did. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

The 2024 event included:

  • 31,000 visitors in attendance
  • 60 + exhibitors
  • 100 + volunteers
  • 12 artists
    • 9 chalk artists
    • Donkeeboy and Donkeemom
    • Mark Bradford
  • 25 Mark Bradford artworks made of scrap presented in partnership with Houston First
  • 4 short films shown
  • 3,836.7 pounds of waste collected during Green Mountain Energy Earth Day

Texas hydrogen research hub opens to support statewide, DOE-backed initiative

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A Texas school has cut the ribbon on a new hydrogen-focused research facility that will play a role in a statewide, Department of Energy-funded energy transition initiative.

The Center for Electromechanics at The University of Texas, Frontier Energy, Inc., and GTI Energy celebrated the grand opening of a hydrogen research and demonstration facility in Austin as part of the “Demonstration and Framework for H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond” project, which is supported by the DOE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

The hydrogen proto-hub is first-of-its-kind and part of Texas-wide initiative for a cleaner hydrogen economy and will feature contributions from organizations throughout the state. The facility will generate zero-carbon hydrogen by using water electrolysis powered by solar and wind energy, and steam methane reformation of renewable natural gas from a Texas landfill.

The hydrogen will be used to power a stationary fuel cell for power for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and it will also supply zero-emission fuel to cell drones and a fleet of Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicles. This method will mark the first time that multiple renewable hydrogen supplies and uses have been networked at one location to show an economical hydrogen ecosystem that is scalable.

“The H2@Scale in Texas project builds on nearly two decades of UT leadership in hydrogen research and development” Michael Lewis, Research Scientist, UT Austin Center for Electromechanics, say in a news release. “With this facility, we aim to provide the educated workforce and the engineering data needed for success. Beyond the current project, the hydrogen research facility is well-positioned for growth and impact in the emerging clean hydrogen industry.”

Over 20 sponsors and industry stakeholders are involved and include Houston-based partners in Center for Houston’s Future and Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy. Industry heavyweights like Chevron, Toyota, ConocoPhillips, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are also part of the effort.

Texas hydrogen infrastructure and wind and solar resources position the state for clean hydrogen production, as evident in the recently released study, “A Framework for Hydrogen in Texas.” The study was part of a larger effort that started in 2020 with the H2@Scale project, which aims to develop clearer paths to renewable hydrogen as a “clean and cost-effective fuel” according to a news release. The facility will serve as an academic research center, and a model for future large-scale hydrogen deployments.

Participants in the DOE-funded HyVelocity Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub will aim to gain insights from the H2@Scale project at UT Austin. The project will build towards a development of a comprehensive hydrogen network across the region. HyVelocity is a hub that includes AES Corporation, Air Liquide, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi Power Americas, Orsted, and Sempra Infrastructure. The GTI Energy administered HyVelocity involves The University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Houston’s Future, and Houston Advanced Research Center.

“H2@Scale isn't just about producing low-carbon energy, it's about creating clean energy growth opportunities for communities throughout Texas and the nation,” Adam Walburger, president of Frontier Energy, says in a news release. “By harnessing renewable energy resources to create zero-carbon hydrogen, we can power homes, businesses, transportation, and agriculture – all while creating jobs and reducing emissions.”