The lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47 percent of its range. Photo via Getty Images

Federal wildlife officials declared a rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species Friday, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world’s most lucrative oil and natural gas basins.

“We have determined that the dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. It concluded that the lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47 percent of its range.

Much of the the 2.5-inch-long (6.5-centimeter), spiny, light brown lizard's remaining habitat has been fragmented, preventing the species from finding mates beyond those already living close by, according to biologists.

“Even if there were no further expansion of the oil and gas or sand mining industry, the existing footprint of these operations will continue to negatively affect the dunes sagebrush lizard into the future,” the service said in its final determination, published in the Federal Register.

The decision caps two decades of legal and regulatory skirmishes between the U.S. government, conservationists and the oil and gas industry. Environmentalists cheered the move, while industry leaders condemned it as a threat to future production of the fossil fuels.

The decision provides a “lifeline for survival” for a unique species whose “only fault has been occupying a habitat that the fossil fuel industry has been wanting to claw away from it,” said Bryan Bird, the Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard spent far too long languishing in a Pandora’s box of political and administrative back and forth even as its population was in free-fall towards extinction,” Bird said in a statement.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association expressed disappointment, saying the determination flies in the face of available science and ignores longstanding state-sponsored conservation efforts across hundreds of thousands of acres and commitment of millions of dollars in both states.

“This listing will bring no additional benefit for the species and its habitat, yet could be detrimental to those living and working in the region,” PBPA President Ben Shepperd and NMOGA President and CEO Missi Currier said in a joint statement, adding that they view it as a federal overreach that can harm communities.

Scientists say the lizards are found only in the Permian Basin, the second-smallest range of any North American lizard. The reptiles live in sand dunes and among shinnery oak, where they feed on insects and spiders and burrow into the sand for protection from extreme temperatures.

Environmentalists first petitioned for the species' protection in 2002, and in 2010 federal officials found that it was warranted. That prompted an outcry from some members of Congress and communities that rely on oil and gas development for jobs and tax revenue.

Several Republican lawmakers sent a letter to officials in the Obama administration asking to delay a final decision, and in 2012, federal officials decided against listing the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the time that the decision was based on the “best available science” and because of voluntary conservation agreements in place in New Mexico and Texas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in Friday's decision that such agreements “have provided, and continue to provide, many conservation benefits” for the lizard, but “based on the information we reviewed in our assessment, we conclude that the risk of extinction for the dunes sagebrush lizard is high despite these efforts.”

Among other things, the network of roads will continue to restrict movement and facilitate direct mortality of dunes sagebrush lizards from traffic, it added, while industrial development “will continue to have edge effects on surrounding habitat and weaken the structure of the sand dune formations.”

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. Photo via Getty Images

3 Houston clean energy startups advance in Elon Musk-backed cleantech competition

finalists

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

"For the world to effectively address greenhouse gas emissions, carbon removal is an essential element of the path to Net Zero. There's no way to reverse humanity's impact on the climate without extracting carbon from our atmosphere and oceans," Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, says in a news release. "We need a range of bold, innovative CDR solutions to manage the vast quantities of CO2 released into our environment and impacting our planet.

"The teams that have been competing for this Prize are all part of building a set of robust and effective solutions and our 20 teams advancing to the final stage of XPRIZE Carbon Removal will have an opportunity to demonstrate their potential to have a significant impact on the climate," Ansari continues.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. The full list of 20 finalists is available online.

Around 20 Houston-area companies were initially identified by the challenge. Here's a look at the three that are advancing to the finals:

  • Mati, in the Rocks category, durably removes carbon from the atmosphere using basalt based enhanced rock weathering (ERW) in smallholder rice paddy farms. This process, which is being demonstrated in India, removes atmospheric CO2 while adding key nutrients in the soil helping to restore degraded soils to benefit smallholder farmers.
  • Climate Robotics, in the Land category, enables broad-scale agriculture adoption of biochar which builds soil health and removes excess carbon from the atmosphere. The company's mobile technology converts crop residues into durable biochar on the fly and in the field, making the economics work for farmers and our ecosystems.
  • Vaulted Deep, also in the Land category, delivers scalable, permanent, carbon removal by geologically sequestering carbon-filled organic wastes. Their patented slurry sequestration, which involves the geological injection of minimally processed wastes for permanent (10,000+ year) carbon removal.

"This cohort of exceptional teams represents a diversity of innovations and solutions across a range of CDR pathways, and shows the significant progress the industry is making in a short period of time," Nikki Batchelor, executive director of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, says in the release. "Over the past three years, this competition has helped accelerate the pace of technology development for a whole new industry of high-potential solutions aimed at reversing climate change."

What can hospital systems do to combat climate change? A lot, according to a new report from the Center for Houston's Future. Photo via TMC.org

New report calls for Houston-area health care providers to take action amid climate change

call to action

A new report underscores an “urgent need” for health care systems in the Houston area to combat climate change and avoid an environmental “code blue.”

“By adopting collaborative strategies and leveraging technological innovations, health care providers can play a pivotal role in safeguarding the health of Houston’s residents against the backdrop of an evolving climate landscape,” says the report, published by the Center for Houston’s Future.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • Advocate for policies that promote decarbonization.
  • Create eco-friendly spaces at hospitals and in low-income communities, among other places.
  • Recruit “champions” among health leaders and physicians to help battle climate change.
  • Establish academic programs to educate health care professionals and students about climate health and decarbonization.
  • Bolster research surrounding climate change.
  • Benchmark, track, and publish statistics about greenhouse gas emissions “to foster accountability and reduce environmental impacts of the health care sector.” The report notes that the U.S. health care sector emits 8.5 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.

“By embracing collaborative strategies, acting with urgency and implementing sustainable practices, our region’s health care providers can play a pivotal role in creating a healthier, more resilient Houston,” says Brett Perlman, outgoing president and CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future. “If we work together, given all the collective wisdom, resources and innovation concentrated in our medical community, we can tackle the challenges that are confronting us.”

The report highlights the threat of climate-driven disasters in the Houston area, such as extreme heat, floods, and hurricanes. These events are likely to aggravate health issues like heatstroke, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and insect-borne diseases, says the report.

St. Luke’s Health, a nonprofit health care system with 16 hospitals in the Houston area and East Texas, provided funding for the report.

Combining batteries with green energy is a fast-growing climate solution. Photo via Getty Images

Batteries and green energies like wind and solar combine for major climate solution across Texas, U.S.

team work

In the Arizona desert, a Danish company is building a massive solar farm that includes batteries that charge when the sun is shining and supply energy back to the electric grid when it's not.

Combining batteries with green energy is a fast-growing climate solution.

“Solar farms only produce when the sun shines, and the turbines only produce when the wind blows,” said Ørsted CEO Mads Nipper. “For us to maximize the availability of the green power, 24-7, we have to store some of it too.”

The United States is rapidly adding batteries, mostly lithium-ion type, to store energy at large scale. Increasingly, these are getting paired with solar and wind projects, like in Arizona. The agencies that run electric grids, utility companies and developers of renewable energies say combining technologies is essential for a green energy future.

Batteries allow renewables to replace fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, while keeping a steady flow of power when sources like wind and solar are not producing. For example, when people are sleeping and thus using less electricity, the energy produced from wind blowing through the night can be stored in batteries — and used when demand is high during the day.

Juan Mendez, a resident of Tempe, Arizona, gets power from local utility Salt River Project, which is collaborating with Ørsted on the Eleven Mile Solar Center. As a state senator, Mendez pushed SRP to move to renewable energies.

He thinks the power company is still investing too much in gas and coal plants, including a major expansion planned for a natural gas plant in Coolidge, Arizona, near the solar center.

“This solar-plus-storage is a good step, but SRP needs to do more to provide clean energy and clean up our air and help address climate change," Mendez said.

The utility said it’s adding more renewables to its energy mix and recently pledged to zero out its emissions by 2050.

The U.S. has the second most electrical storage in the world, after China. In 2023, the U.S. added an estimated 7.5 gigawatts — 62% more than in 2022, according to the BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy factbook. That amount can power 750,000 homes for a day and brings the total amount of installed capacity nationwide to nearly enough for 2 million homes for one day, according to BloombergNEF.

In the U.S., California leads in energy storage as it aggressively cuts greenhouse gas emissions. It has twice as much as any other state. Residential, commercial and utility-scale battery installations increased by 757% there over just four years, meaning there's now enough to power 6.6 million homes for up to four hours, according to the California Energy Commission.

That's partly because in 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission told utilities to buy energy storage with a target to be met by 2020. Since then, power companies have continued to add more batteries to help the state meet clean electricity requirements.

Southern California Edison is one utility adding thousands of hours of energy storage. It is putting in solar-plus-batteries to replace some power plants that burn natural gas and would typically supply electricity in the evening.

“If it’s just clean and not reliable, you really don’t have anything,” said William Walsh, vice president for energy procurement and management. “We need both.”

In California, batteries proved their value in September 2022, as the West was experiencing a long heat wave that sent temperatures into the triple digits. Electricity demand reached the highest the state had ever seen on Sept. 6, 2022, as people cranked up air conditioners.

Walsh credits the batteries added to the grid between 2020 and 2022 with helping to avoid blackouts. Two years earlier, there were rolling electricity outages in California during a similar extreme heat wave.

Texas has the second-most battery storage after California. Last month, Schneider Electric announced it's teaming up with energy company ENGIE North America on solar and battery systems in Texas to get closer to the French multinational’s 100% renewable energy goal in the U.S. and Canada. Before the Inflation Reduction Act, a major climate law passed in 2022, the deal and the necessary $80 million investment would not have been possible, said Hans Royal, Schneider Electric's senior director for renewable energy and carbon advisory.

Royal is advising other global Fortune 500 companies it works with to get into the market.

“The industry needs that, the grid needs it," said Royal.

Back in Arizona, Ørsted’s Eleven Mile Solar Center covers 2,000 acres in rural Pinal County. It has 857,000 solar panels and more than 2,000 cubes that look like large shipping containers but contain battery modules. Ørsted also has large solar and storage projects in Texas and Alabama, and in Europe.

When the Arizona facility opens this summer, most power from the solar farm will go to Facebook owner Meta's data center in Mesa. The solar power not needed by Meta, in addition to the power stored in the batteries, will go to the local utility's customers. The new batteries can ensure power to roughly 65,000 homes during peak hours of demand.

“What I think is exciting is just how rapidly this market is moving," said Yayoi Sekine, head of energy storage at BloombergNEF. “There's so much pressure for the U.S. and different regions to decarbonize, and storage is one of the major technologies to enable that. There's a lot of momentum."

Here's what to attend at CERAWeek. Photo via CERAWeek.com

Things to know this week: Houstonian's guide to CERAWeek 2024

take note

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition — a special CERAWeek 2024 edition. Check out these must-attend events at the conference, which is going on all week in Downtown Houston.

Monday, March 18, at 4:30 pm — IRA at One and a Half Years: What is the impact?

Billions of dollars have poured into the energy sector to spur investment and production of technology to fight climate change through the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) 18 months ago. Experts weigh in on the successes so far and any challenges and obstacles that have arisen.

  • Roman Kramarchuk, S&P Global Commodity Insights Head – Climate Markets and Policy Analytics
  • Jigar Shah, United States Department of Energy Director, Loan Programs Office
  • Kevin Gresham, RWE Senior Vice President, Government Relations & Regulatory Affairs
  • Steve Smith, National Grid Group Head of Strategy, Innovation and Market Analytics, National Grid | President, National Grid Partners

Tuesday, March 19, at 1 pm  — Everything is Bigger in Texas: Building Hydrogen City

Announced in 2022, the largest green hydrogen production, storage and transport hub is being developed in South Texas. It will be powered by behind-the-meter solar and wind and the first phase is expected to produce 1/4 million tonnes of green hydrogen per year. The project developers will provide an update on the early stages of the project.

  • Toshiaki Takimoto, INPEX Corporation Director, Senior Managing Executive Officer, Corporate Strategy & Planning and Head of Net Zero Business
  • Kenneth Medlock, Rice University, Baker Institute Senior Director, Center for Energy Studies
  • Noah Feingold, S&P Global Consulting Associate Director
  • Brian Maxwell, Green Hydrogen International Founder & Chief Executive Officer

Wednesday, March 20, at 1 pm — Houston Energy Initiative Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition

Join The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative and the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy (TEX-E) for the third annual Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek. The pitch day will feature more than 40 energy ventures driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition. The fast-paced competition is designed to connect energy startups with venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics and service providers.

Read more about the event here.

Thursday, March 21, at 1 pm — Luncheon & Dialogue with Bill Gates

Legendary Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who founded Breakthrough Energy and TerraPower, is headed to town for the 2024 CERAWeek. Gates will be featured in a luncheon fireside chat with S&P Global's Daniel Yergin.

HETI House

Drop by the Houston Energy Transition Initiative's HETI House at CERAWeek for a tour or one of the fireside chats.

Commercializing low carbon technology: unique partnerships between industry and academia

Woodside Energy + Rice University

Monday, March 18 | 2 p.m.

  • Tony Almond – VP of Technology & Innovation, Woodside Energy
  • Aditya Mohite – Associate Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Associate Professor, Materials Science and Nanoengineering, Rice University

In 2024, Woodside Energy and Rice University in Houston announced a five-year technology collaboration aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing lower carbon solutions. Woodside will provide $12.5 million to fund the creation of the Woodside-Rice Decarbonization Accelerator, an initiative that aims to bring breakthrough decarbonization technology from the Rice labs to market, with a specific focus on manufacturing products derived from captured carbon dioxide and methane. Specifically, Rice hopes to leverage cold plasma technology, a unique approach to breaking down carbon dioxide. These products have potential applications to make better batteries, transistors, and other critical materials for energy technologies.

Investing in our academic institutions and talent in the energy capital of the world

Shell + University of Houston Energy Transition Institute

Tuesday, March 19 | 9:30 a.m.

  • Jenny Philip, Energy Transition U.S. Senior Advisor, Shell
  • Scott Nyquist, Energy Advisory Board, University of Houston. Vice-Chair, Houston Energy Transition Initiative, Greater Houston Partnership
  • Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Chief Energy Officer, University of Houston

Funded by Shell USA, Inc and Shell Global Solutions, US Inc, the University of Houston’s new Energy Transition Institute (ETI) empowers the next generation of energy leaders; develops and accelerates energy solutions, including hydrogen, carbon management and circular materials at scale; and informs policies to address our most pressing challenge to provide secure, reliable, affordable and sustainable energy for all. Learn more about how University of Houston’s ETI is driving research, innovation and workforce development to support the transition to a low-carbon, energy-abundant future.

How Houston Leads: Engaging Communities and Creating Opportunity in the Energy Transition

Calpine + Houston Energy Transition Initiative

Wednesday, March 20 | 10 a.m.

  • Brett Kerr, Vice President, External Affairs, Calpine
  • Jane Stricker, Houston Energy Transition Initiative + Greater Houston Partnership

Houston has long been regarded as the Energy Capital of the World. As the industry continues to innovate and deploy projects for an energy-abundant, low-carbon future, engaging communities and creating opportunity for all will be critical. In this session, Jane and Brett will discuss the engagement approaches leading energy companies are putting into practice to expand opportunity for all communities. Come learn about best practices, key challenges and new methods for building sustained relationships with communities.

Scaling carbon-neutral gasoline – feed to construction

HIF Global + Bechtel

Thursday, March 21 | 10 a.m.

  • Brooke Vandygriff, Chief Operations Officer, HIF USA
  • Rich Wall, Principal Vice President & General Manager Downstream, Chemicals & Advanced Fuels, Bechtel

HIF Global, the world’s leading eFuels company, has selected Bechtel Energy, Siemens Energy, and Topsoe to conduct the front-end engineering and design (“FEED”) of a facility to be constructed in Matagorda County, Texas, to produce carbon-neutral gasoline. When operational, the HIF Matagorda eFuels Facility will produce fuel that can be dropped-in to vehicles in use today without any modification to existing engines or the infrastructure on which they depend. Come hear more about this innovative technology and the Matagorda facility from Bechtel Energy and HIF Global.

24/7 carbon-free energy: from startup to scale in houston

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries + Fervo Energy

Thursday, March 21 | 2 p.m.

  • Tim Latimer, Chief Executive Officer, Fervo Energy
  • Takajiro Ishikawa, President & CEO, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) announced its investment in Fervo Energy (Fervo), an innovative enhanced geothermal technology startup headquartered in Houston, Texas. MHI joins a consortium of strategic investors, including Devon Energy Corporation (Devon), Marunouchi Innovation Partners (MIP). Over the last few years, Fervo has adapted innovations pioneered by the oil and gas industry, such as horizontal drilling and distributed fiber optic sensing, to make reservoirs of hot rock that exist beneath the earth’s surface into practical, economically viable, carbon-free sources of energy that can be used as heat sources both for industrial and power generation. Learn more about how this clean energy startup is commercializing solutions for the transitions by building relationships with world leading energy and technology companies.

Energy Tech Innovation Lounge (no badge required)

Houston Innovation Leaders and Founders is hosting a free Energy Tech Innovation Lounge that's open daily from 10 am to 5 pm at 808 Travis Street. Each day has programing and networking — click here to learn more.

Texas — along with 24 other states — has filed lawsuits against a recent set of soot pollution standards from the EPA. Photo via Pixabay/Pexels

Texas files lawsuit challenging new EPA rule on deadly soot pollution

all those opposed

A new Biden administration rule that sets tougher standards for deadly soot pollution faced a barrage of legal challenges Wednesday, as 25 Republican-led states — including Texas — and a host of business groups filed lawsuits seeking to block the rule in court.

Twenty-four states, led by attorneys general from Kentucky and West Virginia, filed a joint challenge stating that new Environmental Protection Agency rule would raise costs for manufacturers, utilities and families and could block new manufacturing plants and infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Texas filed a separate suit, as did business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers.

“The EPA’s new rule has more to do with advancing President (Joe) Biden’s radical green agenda than protecting Kentuckians’ health or the environment, said Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman, who is leading the joint lawsuit along with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The EPA rule “will drive jobs and investment out of Kentucky and overseas, leaving employers and hardworking families to pay the price,” Coleman said.

The soot rule is one of several EPA dictates under attack from industry groups and Republican-led states. The Supreme Court heard arguments last month on a GOP challenge to the agency's “good neighbor rule,” which restricts smokestack emissions from power plants and other industrial sources that burden downwind areas.

Three energy-producing states — Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia — challenged the rule, along with the steel industry and other groups, calling it costly and ineffective. The rule is on hold in a dozen states because of the court challenges.

In opposing the soot rule, Republicans and industry groups say the United States already has some of the strictest air quality standards in the world — tougher than the European Union or major polluters such as China and India.

Tightening U.S. standards "wouldn't improve public health, but it would put as many as 30% of all U.S. counties out of compliance under federal law, leading to aggressive new permitting requirements that could effectively block new economic activity,'' Coleman said.

The EPA rule sets maximum levels of fine particle pollution — more commonly known as soot — at 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from 12 micrograms established a decade ago under the Obama administration.

Environmental and public health groups hailed the rule as a major step to improve the health of Americans, including future generations. EPA scientists have estimated exposure at previous limits contributed to thousands of early deaths from heart disease and lung cancer, along with other health problems.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the new soot rule, finalized last month, would create $46 billion in net health benefits by 2032, including prevention of up to 800,000 asthma attacks and 4,500 premature deaths. The rule will especially benefit children, older adults and those with heart and lung conditions, Regan said, as well as people in low-income and minority communities adversely affected by decades of industrial pollution.

"We do not have to sacrifice people to have a prosperous and booming economy,″ Regan said.

Biden is seeking reelection, and some fellow Democrats have warned that a tough new soot standard could harm his chances in key industrial states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The EPA and White House officials brushed aside those concerns, saying the industry has developed technical improvements to meet previous soot standards and can adapt to meet the new ones. Soot pollution has declined by 42% since 2000, even as the U.S. gross domestic product has increased by 52%, Regan said.

The new rule does not impose pollution controls on specific industries. Instead, it lowers the annual standard for fine particulate matter for overall air quality. The EPA will use air sampling to identify counties and other areas that do not meet the new standard. States would then have 18 months to develop compliance plans for those areas. States that do not meet the new standard by 2032 could face penalties, although EPA said it expects that 99% of U.S. counties will be able to meet the revised annual standard by 2032.

Industry groups and Republican officials dispute that and say a lower soot limit could put hundreds of U.S. counties out of compliance.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned the White House in January that 43% of total particulate emissions come from wildfires, and called the pollution standard "the wrong tool to address this problem.''

The EPA said it will work with states, counties and tribes to account for and respond to wildfires, an increasing source of soot pollution, especially in the West, where climate change has led to longer wildfire seasons, with more frequent and intense fires. The agency allows states and air agencies to request exemptions from air-quality standards due to “exceptional events," including wildfires and prescribed fires.

Besides Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas, other states challenging the EPA rule include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.

All three cases were filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Greentown Labs to launch another executive search, CEO to step down after less than a year in the position

on the hunt

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

Houston expert: How to make the EV switch while factoring in impact, cost

Guest Column

Americans are in the midst of getting to know electric cars up close and personal. The finer points of charging and battery technology are now becoming mainstream news.

However, there’s a secret about electric vehicles (EVs) that very few people know, because very few people have driven an electric car with 50,000 or 100,000 miles on it. Very often, EVs drive like new even if they’ve clocked up the miles. No rattles and no shakes, and importantly there is no loss of efficiency, unlike gas cars which tend to lose fuel efficiency as they age. Most strikingly, battery degradation and loss of range is often minimal — even after the odometer hits 6 digits.

What does this mean? At a time when car payments, repair costs and gas prices are all weighing on consumer wallets, we are about to enter an era when it will get easier than ever before for Americans to find a great driving, longer lasting car that saves on fuel costs and needs less maintenance.

This represents an amazing source of value for American drivers to be tapped into - plus even more positive changes for the auto sector, and the potential for new business models.

Narratives about EVs have focused on fears about battery degradation and today’s models becoming dated as technology rapidly advances. The fact that we are all habituated to replacing smartphone batteries that fade within 2 to 3 years doesn’t help.

Auto manufacturers have put 100,000 mile warranties on batteries, but this may have created the perception that this is a ceiling, rather than a floor, for what can be expected from an EV battery.

EV batteries are performing much better than your last smartphone battery. We know this with growing certainty because it’s backed up by evidence. Data reveals that older Teslas average only 12 percent loss of original range at 200,000 miles — double the warranty period.

Furthermore, battery advances are happening at an encouraging pace. You can expect that newer batteries will start with higher ranges and degrade even more slowly. And even after they do, the value shorter range will increase as charging infrastructure matures.

In other words, a 2024 Volkswagen ID.4 with 291 miles of range may be down to 260 miles by the time it has put on 100,000 miles. But in the 5 to 7 years that typically takes, the buildout of charging stations means that range will have much more utility than today.

So in sum, electric vehicles can be expected to last longer with lower maintenance. Over-the-air software upgrades, and perhaps even computing hardware upgrades, will keep them feeling modern. Charging infrastructure will improve much faster than range will degrade. And crucially for the value of these cars, the drive quality will remain great much further into product lifetime.

The trend for driving older cars is already here – the average age of a car on US roads is 12 years old and rising. But now this will shift towards better quality, plus fuel savings, for more people.

New business models and services will help customers take advantage — especially those customers for whom lower cost EVs will represent a step up and savings on the cost of living.

At Houston-based Octopus Electric Vehicles, we are doing this today with something virtually unheard of: leasing pre-owned cars. With electric cars that are 1 to 4 years old, with clean histories and in excellent cosmetic and mechanical condition but depreciated relative to new EV prices, we are frequently able to offer discounts of 30 percent or more, even against heavily incentivized lease offers from automakers. And, because EV maintenance needs are lower, we can throw in free scheduled maintenance with our monthly payment, delivered by a mobile mechanic service.

The secret value of higher-mileage EVs won’t stay secret for long. There’s no replacing first hand experience, and you can probably get that the next time you order an Uber or Lyft by choosing their EV ride options. Before your ride is up, try to guess what’s on the odometer. You may be surprised to hear from your driver that the car you thought was brand new has 50,000 or 100,000 miles on it.

———

Nathan Wyeth is the United States co-lead at Octopus Electric Vehicles.

Houston lands on the wrong end of national pollution report

big yikes

Houston just made a list that no one wants it to be on.

Data compiled by the National Public Utilities Council ranks Houston as the 15th most polluted city in the U.S. No other Texas city appears in the ranking. Three California cities — Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno — took the top three spots.

The ranking considers a city’s average volume of fine particulate matter in the air per year. Fine particulate matter (formally known as PM2.5) includes soot, soil dust, and sulphates.

The council based its ranking on the average annual concentration of PM2.5 as measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air, known as µg/m3. The ranking lists Houston’s average annual µg/m3 as 11.4. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a top µg/m3 of 5, while the American Lung Association sets 9 µg/m as an average annual guideline.

A report released in 2024 by Smart Survey found that the Houston area had just 38 days of good air quality the previous year.

“Most of Houston’s air pollution comes from industrial sources and diesel engines, although sources as diverse as school buses and meat cooking also contribute to … the problem,” the nonprofit Air Alliance Houston says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PM2.5 poses “the greatest risk to health” of any particulate matter. Among other health issues, fine particulate matter contributes to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic pulmonary disease.

Among the sources of PM2.5 are wildfires, wood-burning stoves, and coal-fired plants, according to the American Lung Association.

The WHO says air pollution causes 7 million deaths annually and may cost the global economy $18 trillion to 25 trillion by 2060. With 70 percent of the population expected to live in urban centers by mid-century, cities are at the forefront of efforts to reduce pollution, according to National Public Utilities Council.