Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo by Pixabay

A Houston nuclear engineer and entrepreneur wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid.

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. An experienced entrepreneur, Childress also serves as founder and CEO of technology software company Macorva.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

With energy demand skyrocketing, and the push toward renewable solutions, solar seems like a safe bet for Childress, a former competitive high-stakes poker player. Childress cites a recent Yale University study that says 63 percent of Americans “feel a personal responsibility to help reduce global warming.”

But some studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” he says.

“They’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action,” says Childress, who has called Houston home for 25 years. He received his doctorate in medical physics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he worked on software that provided radiation therapy for patients.

The initial Kickstarter fundraising round, which will be launched soon, will finance the construction of one utility-scale solar farm, on about five to 10 acres, which would produce about 1 megawatt, or 1,000 kilowatts, of clean energy. The plant would make enough energy to power about 200 average homes.

Childress says interest has been strong, with several thousand signed up on the Kickstarter launch list. Some who are signed up expressed interest in a subscription, he said, and that may be offered later. Initially, though, for a one-time purchase of $95, a Solar Slice client can purchase one virtual 50W slice of solar power, produced by the farm. Over its lifetime, Childress says, that one purchase can offset three tons of carbon dioxide.

The app tracks carbon offsetting, and energy production for the slice, showing a client “exactly how much I have helped the climate, here’s exactly how (many) emissions I have prevented from putting in the atmosphere,” he says.

The energy produced by five slices can offset the average American’s carbon footprint for a year, and the power generated by the solar farm will be sold to the electric grid. As clients purchase more slices, they can earn eco-credits to donate to other climate-friendly partners, to plant trees or create pollinator habitats.

While Solar Slice is a for-profit venture, contributors won’t get rich or even make money from their purchase. Rather, it provides validation.

“Our focus is maximizing the real world impact, not for financial gain. This is not something people sign up (for) to make money. We’re really clear about that,” Childress says. “I want to show that it’s possible to have a for-profit company that is sustainable, that does good work.

“And hopefully, we can be part of the spirit…for a bigger movement, and for consumers and business, especially, to do things that matter.”

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo courtesy

The largest U.S. solar plants are in Nevada and California, and those states are sites under consideration, but Childress says Texas is the most likely home for the initial project. The ten largest utility-scale solar plants in Texas by capacity are all in far west or central parts of the state, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Childress has a team of four, who are handling the marketing, plant design and site scouting, and hopes to hire five to 10 more, depending on response and growth. He says the Solar Slice consumer can directly connect in real time to the contribution that their purchase will make toward a green energy future.

“That was our inspiration..let’s start something that is really making a difference..and making really clear to the individuals what’s being done,” he says.

Solar energy has become a growing source of power for Texas, comprising about 6 percent of the state’s energy generation, as of 2022, the comptroller’s office says.

The state ranks first in projected growth of solar energy over the next five years, with more than 9,500 operating solar plants, and many thousands more announced, according to the state Public Utility Commission.

“We would absolutely love to make this into something where we are building plants around the nation, around the world,” Childress he says.

However, resistance to alternative energy projects like solar and wind, especially on a large scale, remains in some quarters.

Obtaining site permits for swaths of land can be also a challenge. For example, a recent survey by Berkeley Lab of 123 professionals from 62 unique, large-scale wind and solar energy facilities showed that about one-third of wind and solar siting applications in the past five years were canceled.

Half of the projects experienced delays of six months or longer. And according to the survey, developers expect the trend to continue, and become more expensive to address.

However, another Berkeley Lab survey of residents who live within three miles of a solar power plant showed that most view the plant positively. The larger the plant, the more negative the response in the survey. The smaller the farm, the more positive the reactions.

Childress says many of the common objections to utility-scale solar farms are misguided, and incorrect. For example, the concern that they would take over available farmland or take up too much space.

He says that even if the entire U.S. power grid relied solely on solar power, the plants would occupy not even a half percent of available land, which is about one percent farmland.

The two companies will work closely with UH's Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Project Collaborative, or the ROICE project. Photo via UH.edu

UH to explore repurposing offshore tech for clean energy with new partnership

teaming up

The University of Houston has signed a memorandum of understanding with two Houston-based companies that aims to repurpose offshore infrastructure for the energy transition.

The partnership with Promethean Energy and Endeavor Management ensures that the two companies will work closely with UH's Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Project Collaborative, or the ROICE project. The collaborative is supported by about 40 institutions to address the economic and technical challenges behind repurposing offshore wells, according to a statement from UH. It's funded in part by the Department of the Treasury through the State of Texas.

“These MOUs formalize our mutual commitment to advance the industry's implementation of energy transition strategies,” Ram Seetharam, Energy Center officer and ROICE program lead, said in the statement. “Together, we aim to create impactful solutions that will benefit both the energy sector and society as a whole.”

UH announced the partnership last week. Photo via UH.edu

Promethean Energy develops, produces, and decommissions mature assets in a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable manner. It began working on the temporary abandonment of nine wells located in the Matagorda Island lease area in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

According to Clint Boman, senior vice president of operations at Promethean, it is slated to become the first ROICE operator of a repurposed oil and gas facility in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Promethean Energy is focused on being the best, last steward of offshore oil and gas production assets, and our strategy is fully aligned with an orderly energy transition,” Borman said in the statement.

Endeavor Management is a consulting firm that works in several industries, including oil and gas, industrial service, transportation, technology and more.

“Our collaboration for this ROICE phase and with the RPC will blend our offshore operations expertise, our years of experience addressing evolving regulatory requirements with our decades of creating innovative commercial enterprises to meet the demands of energy transition” John McKeever, chief growth officer of Endeavor Management, said in the statement. “Together, we will create the blueprint that drives real business impact with the application of clean energy principles.”

The new partnerships will help foster ROICE's second phase. The first was focused on research and reports on how to implement ROICE projects, with the latest published earlier this month. This second phase will focus on innovation and implementation frameworks.

Additionally, at the signing of the MOU, ROICE revealed its new logo that features an oil and gas platform that's been transformed to feature wind turbines, a hydrogen tank and other symbols of the energy transition.

This spring, UH signed a memorandum of understanding with Heriot-Watt University in Scotland to focus on hydrogen energy solutions. The following month, Rice University announced it had inked a strategic partnership agreement with Université Paris Sciences & Lettres to collaborate on "fields of energy and climate," among other pressing issues. Click here to read more.

A Houston company has started construction on a Waco-area solar farm. Photo courtesy of INEOS

Houston company breaks ground on North Texas solar project

coming soon

A Houston-area company has broken ground on a new 310-megawatt solar project located in Bosque County, Texas.

League City-based INEOS Olefins & Polymers and Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources announced the groundbreaking on INEOS Hickerson Solar, which will reportedly save over 310,000 tons of CO2 every year.

“INEOS O&P USA is committed to leading the petrochemical community in adopting renewable energy solutions,” says CEO Mike Nagle in a news release. “This solar project is a crucial step in our global efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of INEOS businesses.”

The INEOS Hickerson Solar project will be constructed, owned and operated by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, and the output will aim to cover the net purchased electricity load for all 14 of INEOS O&P USA’s manufacturing, fractionation and storage facilities. Commercial operation is expected by December 2025.

The project is expected to produce 730,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy annually, which is the equivalent to the annual electricity use of over 68,000 homes. INEOS hopes this will significantly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 310,000 tons per year.

This follows the recently signed renewable power purchase agreement with NextEra Energy Resources, which is the world's largest generator of renewable energy from wind and sun.

Eric Williams has been appointed executive vice president and CFO of Sunnova. Photo via sunnova.com/

Houston solar energy company names new C-level leadership

onboarding

Houston’s Sunnova Energy has named a new member to its C suite.

Eric Williams has been appointed executive vice president and CFO of Sunnova, an industry-leading adaptive energy services company. He brings 20 years of experience with 13 years in the energy industry to the company.

Williams replaces Robert Lane. Lane served as Sunnova's executive vice president and CFO from May 2019 to June 2024.

“I was drawn to Sunnova by its commitment to power energy independence and make clean energy more accessible, reliable, and affordable for homeowners and businesses,” Williams says in a news release. “Building on its unique accomplishments and strong history as an industry leader, I am confident in Sunnova’s ability to create value for all stakeholders and realize its vision for a clean energy future.

"I also count it a privilege to succeed Rob Lane, whose leadership and contributions have been invaluable," he continues. "I am grateful for his help ensuring a seamless and effective transition, and I am eager to begin working with his talented team.”

Prior to taking this position, Williams served as CEO and executive vice president of Diversified Energy Company where he helped establish the company’s asset backed securitization structure and led the issuance of approximately $2 billion in securitized debt.

"Eric’s extensive background in the energy sector and impressive track record in finance and accounting will be invaluable to Sunnova, and we are confident he will be a key driver in our growth and success going forward," William J. (John) Berger, CEO at Sunnova adds. "As a seasoned financial leader with deep experience in leveraging the capital markets, we believe Eric is uniquely positioned to continue building Sunnova’s strong financial framework and create more long-term value for our shareholders.”

Catalyze’s proprietary suite of technology will bring solar development practices to Lancaster and Amherst areas. Photo courtesy of Catalyze

Houston company secures $100M to fund solar projects across New York

fueling up

Houston’s Catalyze announced that it secured $100 million in financing from NY Green Bank to support a 79 megawatt portfolio of community distributed generation solar projects across the state of New York.

The loan is part of Catalyze’s increased presence in New York State with operational projects coming to Lancaster and Amherst. Catalyze’s proprietary suite of technology will bring solar development practices to the area.

Catalyze is a Houston-headquartered clean energy transition company that builds, owns, finances, and operates solar and battery storage systems. Catalyze is backed by leading energy investors EnCap Investments L.P. and Actis. NY Green Bank is a division of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The deal aims to advance New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goal of installing six gigawatts of distributed solar by 2025. This is part of a larger goal to 10 GW by 2030.

Catalyze owns two proprietary technologies in REenergyze, which is an origination-to-operations software integration platform to accelerate and scale nationwide adoption of commercial and industrial solar and storage, and SolarStrap. SolarStrap isa mounting technology to install rooftop panels.

“We are excited to leverage our extensive community solar expertise to ensure the success of NY Green Bank’s term loan supporting a community distributed generation (CDG) portfolio,” Jared Haines CEO of Catalyze, says in a news release. “CDG is one of the most effective means of making solar energy more accessible to low-to-moderate income communities, and we look forward to how this partnership will support both the goals of NY Green Bank and New York State.”

This Earth Week, let's consider the benefits of home charging for electric vehicles. Photo via Getty Images

Expert: 5 ways residential charging enhances the environmental benefits of EVs

guest column

Electric vehicles are already considered as an environmentally conscientious alternative to traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, thanks to their zero tailpipe emissions. However, the environmental benefits of EVs can be further enhanced by implementing a home-base charging routine.

This is important not only for individuals looking to cut their household’s carbon footprint, but also for corporations that operate EV fleets and are looking for additional cost and environmental savings as part of their larger sustainability initiatives. What makes home charging the most eco-conscious option?

1. Increased use of renewable energy

More than 4 million homes in the United States support rooftop solar panels that provide renewable energy back to the property or back to the local grid. When EV owners install solar panels or other renewable energy systems at their homes, they can charge their vehicles using this clean energy, effectively reducing the carbon footprint associated with their EV use to nearly zero. This direct use of renewables circumvents the inefficiencies and emissions associated with the broader energy grid which, depending on the location, may still rely on fossil fuels to a significant extent. This synergy between EVs and clean local energy production is exemplified by Tesla’s solar roof program, which promotes the adoption of clean home-based energy production as part of the holistic EV ownership experience offered through their app.

2. Optimizing charging times for lower emissions

Home charging allows for more flexible and strategic charging schedules. EV owners can often take advantage of off-peak electricity rates and lower carbon intensity periods by charging their vehicles overnight or when renewable energy production (such as wind or solar power) is at its peak. This not only leads to cost savings for the consumer, but also contributes to a balanced demand on the electric grid, reducing the need for high-carbon emergency power sources that are sometimes activated during peak demand times. Apps like WhenToPlugIn use a carbon intensity forecasting tool to help consumers pick the best times to charge.

3. Reducing dependency on public charging infrastructure

Public charging stations are crucial for long-distance EV travel. For everyday use, the current public charging landscape is trailing the demand curve. The good news is that the majority of EV drivers can rely almost solely on home charging. This practice ensures public charging spots remain open for those who, due to circumstances such as residing in multi-unit dwellings without charging facilities, cannot charge at home. Consequently, this accessibility supports wider adoption of EVs, leading to a more substantial reduction in overall emissions.

4. Avoiding unnecessary travel to public charging stations

The average driver has to detour 2 miles to refill their gas tank. For electric vehicles, finding an available public charger can add many more miles to a trip. Home charging ensures that EVs can start each day with a “full tank” — which, with new EVs, means hundreds of miles of range before needing to plug in again. This reduction in driven miles not only saves time but also decreases the energy consumption and emissions associated with traveling to and from charging stations unnecessarily. By charging at home, EV owners can ensure their vehicles are ready to go without extra trips, further cutting down on the vehicle's overall environmental impact.

5. Enhancing battery longevity

Charging at home typically involves slower charging speeds compared to rapid chargers found in public stations. These slower, more controlled charging rates are less taxing on an EV's battery, contributing to longer battery life and better overall efficiency. Longer battery lifespans mean fewer replacements over the vehicle's life, significantly reducing the environmental impact associated with battery production and disposal. This not only has clear environmental benefits but also economic ones for the vehicle owner.

Conclusion

The environmental benefits of electric vehicles are well-documented, but by incorporating home charging, these benefits are amplified significantly. Through the increased use of renewable energy, optimizing charging times to utilize green power, and reducing reliance on public charging infrastructure, EV owners can further reduce their environmental footprint. As technology advances and the energy grid becomes cleaner, the potential for home charging to contribute to a more sustainable future only grows, reinforcing the role of electric vehicles in the transition to greener transportation options.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demands answers from Houston power company following Beryl

investigation incoming

With around 270,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Houston area almost a week after Hurricane Beryl hit Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he's demanding an investigation into the response of the utility that serves the area as well as answers about its preparations for upcoming storms.

“Power companies along the Gulf Coast must be prepared to deal with hurricanes, to state the obvious,” Abbott said at his first news conference about Beryl since returning to the state from an economic development trip to Asia.

While CenterPoint Energy has restored power to about 2 million customers since the storm hit on July 8, the slow pace of recovery has put the utility, which provides electricity to the nation’s fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm that left people without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed into power lines.

With months of hurricane season left, Abbott said he's giving CenterPoint until the end of the month to specify what it'll be doing to reduce or eliminate power outages in the event of another storm. He said that will include the company providing detailed plans to remove vegetation that still threatens power lines.

Abbott also said that CenterPoint didn't have “an adequate number of workers pre-staged" before the storm hit.

Following Abbott's news conference, CenterPoint said its top priority was “power to the remaining impacted customers as safely and quickly as possible,” adding that on Monday, the utility expects to have restored power to 90% of its customers. CenterPoint said it was committed to working with state and local leaders and to doing a “thorough review of our response.”

CenterPoint also said Sunday that it’s been “investing for years” to strengthen the area’s resilience to such storms.

The utility has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it has brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston. It has said it would have been unsafe to preposition those workers inside the predicted storm impact area before Beryl made landfall.

Brad Tutunjian, vice president for regulatory policy for CenterPoint Energy, said last week that the extensive damage to trees and power poles hampered the ability to restore power quickly.

A post Sunday on CenterPoint's website from its president and CEO, Jason Wells, said that over 2,100 utility poles were damaged during the storm and over 18,600 trees had to be removed from power lines, which impacted over 75% of the utility's distribution circuits.

Things to know: Beryl in the rearview, Devon Energy's big deal, and events not to miss

taking notes

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition.

Hurricane Beryl's big impact

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Houston area likely won’t have power restored until this week, as the city swelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl.

The storm slammed into Texas on July 8, knocking out power to nearly 2.7 million homes and businesses and leaving huge swaths of the region in the dark and without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Although repairs have restored power to nearly 1.4 million customers, the scale of the damage and slow pace of recovery has put CenterPoint Energy, which provides electricity to the nation's fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm and is doing enough now to make things right.

Some frustrated residents have also questioned why a part of the country that is all too familiar with major storms has been hobbled by a Category 1 hurricane, which is the weakest kind. But a storm's wind speed, alone, doesn't determine how dangerous it can be. Click here to continue reading this article from the AP.

Big deal: Devon Energy to acquire Houston exploration, production biz in $5B deal

Devon Energy is buying Grayson Mill Energy's Williston Basin business in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $5 billion as consolidation in the oil and gas sector ramps up.

The transaction includes $3.25 billion in cash and $1.75 billion in stock.

Grayson Mill Energy, based in Houston, is an oil and gas exploration company that received an initial investment from private equity firm EnCap Investments in 2016.

The firm appears to be stepping back from energy sector as it sells off assets. Last month EnCap-backed XCL Resources sold its Uinta Basin oil and gas assets to SM Energy Co. and Northern Oil and Gas in a transaction totaling $2.55 billion. EnCap had another deal in June as well, selling some assets to Matador Resources for nearly $2 billion. Click here to continue reading.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • 2024 Young Leaders Institute: Renewable Energy and Climate Solutions is taking place July 15 to July 19 at Asia Society of Texas. Register now.
  • CCS/Decarbonization Project Development, Finance and Investment, taking place July 23 to 25, is the deepest dive into the economic and regulatory factors driving the success of the CCS/CCUS project development landscape. Register now.
  • The 5th Texas Energy Forum 2024, organized by U.S. Energy Stream, will take place on August 21 and 22 at the Petroleum Club of Houston. Register now.

Growing Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

onboarding

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.