This latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. Photo by Eric Turnquist

On the evening of May 16, a devastating “derecho” storm howled through Houston. Nearly 800,000 customers lost power. Many were still without electricity days later, as a heat wave baked neighborhoods that couldn’t power air conditioners.

It was yet another unwelcome reminder about the precariousness of the power grid.

These outages followed repeated grid warnings, conservation calls, and near-misses last summer and the summer before, as well as the catastrophic Winter Storm Uri freeze in February 2021.

The outages also preceded the increasingly extreme weather Texas faces and staggering growth on the ERCOT grid: after growing about 1 percent a year for 20 years, the power grid covering most of Texas may need to be 78 percent bigger by 2030.

So, this latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. It also shows that more and more, the state needs you to act.

Like any other market, a power grid runs on supply and demand. The supply of Texas energy is growing, which is great. At the same time, the economy is booming, leaving Texas setting demand records almost constantly. Generators can’t always keep up, especially when power plants break down or don’t produce electricity — there’s about an 18 percent chance that Texas will face at least one grid emergency this summer.

With odds like that, it’s no wonder that more and more Texans are finding ways to live more powerfully. Many are investing in solar panels and energy storage devices like Tesla Powerwalls.

These systems let families and business owners generate electricity during the day, store it, and use it later when there’s an emergency or just when power is scarce. They protect people from high bills and blackouts; it’s no coincidence that just since last month's storm, we've seen a five-fold increase in leads, reflecting a huge growth in interest in solar power. Further, since the storm, 90 percent of new Houston-area solar customers have bought backup battery systems, compared to 50 percent in 2024 and less than 25 percent in 2023.

That pattern has repeated across the country after severe weather events.

Homeowners and business owners can also slash their bills by weatherizing houses and buildings, the way power plants did after Uri. Advanced devices that help people automatically, and voluntarily, reduce electricity use when the grid is stretched would also help.

These improvements and investments would help more than just homeowners and business owners — they’d help the entire power grid. Every kilowatt that someone doesn’t need or can generate themselves frees up power for other families and businesses across the grid. That helps Texas keep the lights on, especially if electricity demand is about to spike as dramatically as the state expects.

Texas already incentivizes conservation and generation at a large scale. For example, large users like manufacturers and crypto miners get paid by ERCOT for reducing electricity use when the grid is stretched. And just last year, the legislature passed a $10 billion program to help fund new gas power plants.

It’s past time to extend similar incentives to everyday Texans, especially when we’re increasingly called upon to help ERCOT keep the lights on.

If crypto companies get money for reducing electricity use when ERCOT asks them to, then residential and business customers deserve to get paid too. The state could help Texans invest in technologies and smart metering programs that cut bills andautomatically reward people for reducing use on the hottest afternoons and coldest mornings.

More than that, the state has got to do more to reward solar customers who generate electricity and return it to the grid when demand rises. These virtual power plants will increasingly provide vital power when the state badly needs it, and consumers need to be rewarded for it. (Fortunately, the state is looking at strategies to take better advantage of virtual power plants.)

Finally, if Texas is helping big generators build gas plants, it should figure out ways to help regular Texans install solar panels and battery storage units. Such systems obviously help protect Texans from power outages, but they also fortify the ERCOT grid by reducing the demand on it.

Last month’s derecho was exactly the sort of freak occurrence that will become more common as the weather grows more extreme. The best way to protect the grid from such catastrophes is to protect individual Texas customers as well.

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Bret Biggart is CEO of Freedom Solar Power, a Texas-based solar company.


ExxonMobil and Intel are working to design, test, research and develop new liquid cooling technologies to optimize data center performance and help customers meet their sustainability goals. Photo via Getty Images

ExxonMobil, Intel eye sustainable solutions within data center innovation

the view from heti

Two multinational corporations have announced a new collaboration to create energy-efficient and sustainable solutions for data centers as the market experiences significant growth.

ExxonMobil and Intel are working to design, test, research and develop new liquid cooling technologies to optimize data center performance and help customers meet their sustainability goals. Liquid cooling solutions serve as an alternative to traditional air-cooling methods in data centers.

“Our partnership with ExxonMobil to co-develop turnkey solutions for liquid cooling will enable significant energy and water savings for data center and network deployments,” said Jen Huffstetler, Chief Product Sustainability Officer, Intel.

According to consulting firm McKinsey, “a hyperscaler’s data center can use as much power as 80,000 households do,” and that demand is expected to keep surging. Power consumption by the U.S. data center market is forecasted “to reach 35 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, up from 17 GW in 2022,” according to a McKinsey analysis. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, and other advanced computing techniques are increasing computational workloads, and in return, increasing electricity demand. Therefore, companies are searching for solutions to support this growth.

ExxonMobil launched its full portfolio of data center immersion fluid products last year. The partnership with Intel will allow them to further advance their efforts in this market.

“By integrating ExxonMobil’s proven expertise in liquid cooling technologies with Intel’s long legacy of industry leadership in world-changing computing technologies, together we will further the industry’s adoption and acceptance as it transitions to liquid cooling technologies,” said Sarah Horne, Vice President, ExxonMobil.

Learn more about this collaboration here.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

Rising temps could result in rolling brownouts this summer–unless we work together to reduce the strain on the electric grid. Photo via Shutterstock

NERC warns of summer energy shortfalls–what you can do now

THINGS ARE HEATING UP

The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) issued a warning with the 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment yesterday – energy shortages could be coming this summer for two-thirds of North America if temperatures spike higher than normal.

“Increased, rapid deployment of wind, solar and batteries have made a positive impact,” Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of reliability assessments says in the release. “However, generator retirements continue to increase the risks associated with extreme summer temperatures, which factors into potential supply shortages in the western two-thirds of North America if summer temperatures spike.”

For Texans, the combined risk of drought and higher-than-normal temperatures could stress ERCOT system resources, especially in the case of reduced wind. But before there’s a mad rush on generators, keep in mind, electricity consumers can take simple actions to minimize the possibility of widespread shortfalls.

Electricity demand begins rising daily around 2 P.M. in the summer and peaks in the final hours of daylight. These hours are generally not only the warmest hours of the day but also the busiest. People return from work to their homes, crank down the air conditioner, turn on TVs, run a load of wash, and prepare meals using multiple electric-powered appliances.

If everyone takes one or two small steps to avoid unnecessary stress on the grid in the hours after coming home from work, we can prevent energy shortfalls. Modify routines now to get into the habit of running the dishwasher overnight, using the washer and dryer before noon or after 8 pm and pulling the shades down in the bright afternoon hours of the day.

Try to delay powering up devices – including EVs – until after dark. Turn off and unplug items to avoid sapping electricity when items are not in use. And if you can bear it, nudge that thermostat up a couple of degrees.

Energy sustainability demands consistent collaboration and coordination from every consumer of energy. Let’s get in the habit of acting neighborly now with conservative electricity practices before we start seeing temperatures–of both the literal and figurative kind–flare.

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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.