There's no silver bullet for clean energy. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach, writes Scott Nyquist. Photo via Getty Images

People in the energy industry don’t have the Oscars. For us, the big event of the year is CERAWeek — a conference stuffed with CEOs, top policymakers, and environmental and energy wonks held annually in March.

CERAWeek 2022, with the theme“Pace of Change: Energy, Climate, and Innovation," meant the return of in-person activations, panels, and networking. Walking and talking between sessions and around the coffee table, it occurred to me that the unofficial theme of the event was “Maybe now we can find middle ground on energy.” This idea came up time and time again, from all kinds of people.

As with too many other issues, the discussion of the future of US energy has become polarized. On one end of the spectrum are those who want everything renewable and/or electrified by ….. last week, whatever the cost. Their mantra for fossil fuels: “Keep them in the ground.”

On the other end, are those who dismiss climate change, saying we can always adapt and that it doesn’t much matter, anyway. Just keep digging and drilling and mining as we have always done. And in the middle are the great majority of Americans who are not passionate either way, but want to be responsible consumers, and also to be able to visit grandma without breaking the bank.

I believe that the transition toward an energy system that is cleaner and less reliant on fossil fuels is realand will ultimately bring substantial benefits. At the same time, I believe that energy security and economics also matter. At a time when inflation was already running high, paying an average of $4.25 a gallon at the pump is piling pain on tens of millions of US households. Ultimately, over decades, the use of electric vehicles will reduce the need for oil and that lower-emissions sources, including renewables, will provide a larger share of the power supply, which today depends largely on gas and coal. But that moment is not now, or next week. Indeed, fossil fuels continue to account for almost 80 percent of US primary energy consumption, and a similar figure globally.

Here is one way to think about the interplay between the energy transition and energy security: “We need an energy strategy for the future—an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.” No, that isn’t some apologist for Big Oil; it was President Obama. In 2014, the Obama White House also noted the role of US domestic oil and gas production in enhancing economic resilience and reducing vulnerability to oil shocks. In short, the White House argued, US oil and gas production can bring real benefits for the country. I think that is still true.

Does that mean throwing in the towel on the energy transition and climate change? Absolutely not. There are a variety of ways to pursue the goal of reducing emissions and eventually getting to net-zero emissions. I’ve touched on many of them in previous posts—including reducing methane emissions,pricing carbon, hydrogen, renewables, electric vehicles, urban planning, carbon capture, and negative emissions technologies. In other words, an “all of the above strategy” makes sense in this regard, too.

I don’t know how, or if, a middle ground can be captured. But from what I heard at CERAWeek last year, from people of otherwise widely divergent views, there just may be momentum to get there. A middle-ground consensus rests on three premises. First, we need fossil fuels for energy security and reliability now and until the time when technologies are in place to secure the energy transition. Second, at the same time, we need to be investing in the energy transition because climate change is real and matters. And third, for sustained and systematic progress, government and industry need to work together.

Or, in a phrase, “all of the above.”

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Scott Nyquist is a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company and vice chairman, Houston Energy Transition Initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership. The views expressed herein are Nyquist's own and not those of McKinsey & Company or of the Greater Houston Partnership. This article originally ran on LinkedIn.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

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A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

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ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.