The new course will provide participants with insights on how to use robotics to enhance efficiency in data collection, AI data analysis tools for industry, risk management with AI, and more. Photo courtesy of UH

The University of Houston will launch its latest micro-credential course next month that focuses on how AI and robotics can be used in inspection processes for the energy industry.

Running from March 22 through April 22, the course is open to "engineers, technicians and industry professionals with advanced knowledge in the dynamic fields of robotics and AI," according to a statement from UH. It will combine weekly online lectures and in-person hands-on demonstrations and provide participants with insights on how to use robotics to enhance efficiency in data collection, AI data analysis tools for industry, risk management with AI, and more.

“By blending theoretical knowledge with practical applications and hands-on experience, the course aims to empower participants with the skills needed to evaluate and adopt these advanced technologies to address real-world challenges in asset management,” Vedhus Hoskere, assistant professor at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, said in a statement. “We hope that upskilling and knowledge gained from this course will help accelerate the adoption of AI and robotics and contribute to the advancement of safer and more resource-efficient energy infrastructure systems.”

Hoskere will teach the course module titled “Computer Vision and Deep Learning for Inspections.” He also recently received a $500,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to look at how to use drones, cameras, sensors and AI to support Texas' bridge maintenance programs.

Other leaders of the UH Energy course will include:

  • Kimberley Hayes, founder of Valkim Technologies: Lead speaker who will provide an overview and introduction of AI applications, standards and certification
  • Gangbing Song, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UH: Machine learning hands-on exercises
  • Pete Peterson, head of product management and marketing with XaaS Lab: Computer vision technology in the oil and gas industry
  • Matthew Alberts, head of project management with Future Technologies Venture Venture LLC: Use cases, workflow and optimizing inspections with AI and drones
  • Suchet Bargoti, chief technology officer at Abyss Solutions: AI and robots for integrity management.

Registration accepted up to the first day of the course and can be completed online.

Houston energy transition folks — here's what to know to start your week. Photo via Getty Images

Rice to open applications for clean energy program, Houston events not to miss and more things to know

take note

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a roundup of events not to miss, a deadline not to miss, and more.

ICYMI: Clean energy networking and showcase coming to Houston in September

Greentown Labs, Halliburton Labs, and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship have announced Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 taking place September 9 to 13.

“These organizations will execute events that will serve as a launching pad for an Energy and Climate Startup Week in Houston, showcasing the city as a national hub for the energy future,” Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance, says in the release. “We welcome the community to bring other energy and climate events to the week, which we’ll cross-promote as the dates approach.”

The week will assemble investors, industry leaders, and startups from across the energy industry and from around the world to showcase Houston's growing sustainable, low-carbon energy future. Read more about the inaugural week.

Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator to open applications for its next cohort

The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator helps seed-stage startups from around the world developing clean energy solutions achieve technical and commercial milestones that accelerate development, establish market adoption, and expand their reach.

Applications for Class Four go live on March 4 and close on March 29. Rice Alliance is hosting an info session on March 5. More details on the program and registration for the session can be found online.

Events not to miss

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

  • Hydrogen networking at Greentown Labs is Tuesday, February 20, at 4:30 pm at Greentown Houston. Register.
  • The Future of Energy Across the Americas: Helping Lawyers Predict and Adapt — the 2024 Houston Energy Conference — is February 27 to March 1. Register.
  • CERAWeek 2024 is Monday, March 18, to Friday, March 22, in the George R. Brown Convention Center. Register.

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E, joins the Houston Innovator Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Why this organization is focused on cultivating the future of energy transition innovation

Q&A

David Pruner is laser focused on the future workforce for the energy industry as executive director of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, a nonprofit housed out of Greentown Labs that was established to support energy transition innovation at Texas universities.

TEX-E launched in 2022 in collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five university partners — Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Pruner was officially named to his role earlier this year, but he's been working behind the scenes for months now getting to know the organization and already expanding its opportunities from students across the state at the five institutions.

"Our mission is to create the next generation of energy transition climatetech entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs — they don’t all have to start companies," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Listen to the show below and read through a brief excerpt from the episode with Pruner.


EnergyCapital: Can you share a little bit about the origin of TEX-E?

David Puner: There were a variety of factories that led to its creation, but the seminal event was a piece of work that had been done for the Greater Houston Partnership by McKinsey on the future of Houston. It showed that if Houston isn't careful and doesn't make sure to go ahead and transition with this energy expansion we’re seeing, that they’re at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. If they catch the transition right and make the conversion to cleaner and low-carbon fuels, they can actually gain 1.4 million jobs.

It was this eye opener for everyone that we need to make sure that if the energy transition is going to happen, it needs to happen here so that Houston stays the energy capital of the world.

David Baldwin (partner at SCF Partners) literally at the meeting said, “listen I've got the beginning of the funnel — the universities, that’s where innovation comes from.” From that, TEX-E was born.

EC: How are you working with the five founding universities to connect the dots for collaboration?

DP: In the end, we have five different family members who need to be coordinated differently. The idea behind TEX-E is that there's plenty of bright students at each of these schools, and there's plenty of innovation going on, it's whether it can grow, prosper, and be sustainable.

Our main job is to look to connect everyone, so that an engineer at Texas A&M that has an idea that they want to pursue, but they don't know the business side, can meet that Rice MBA. Then, when they realize it's going to be a highly regulated product, we need a regulatory lawyer at UT — we can make all that happen and connect them.

At the same time, what we found is, no one school has the answer. But when you put them together, we do have most of the answer. Almost everything we need is within those five schools. And it's not just those five schools, it really is open to everyone.

EC: As you mentioned before, TEX-E started as a way for Houston to take the reins of its energy transition. What's the pulse on that progress?

DP: I spent the last decade building boards and hiring CEOs for all kinds of energy companies and there was the period I would say — pre-pandemic and a little bit into the pandemic — where not everybody was on board with climate change and the issue of carbon. The nice thing now is that’s fully in the rearview mirror. There’s not really a company of any size or a management team of any major entity that doesn’t fully believe they need to do something there.

The train has fully left the station — and picked up speed — on this whole issue of transition and climate. So, that’s been nice to see and create a lot of tailwinds.

———

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The companies say their partnership is “aimed at revolutionizing the landscape of science-backed decision-making in the upstream energy industry.” Photo via Getty Images

Houston company's new joint venture to bring AI into upstream

teaming up for tech

Houston-based GeoMark Research and Peachtree Corners, Georgia-based Senslytics have formed a joint venture that will bring AI-fueled data and analysis to the upstream energy industry.

GeoMark Research provides geochemical and PVT (pressure, volume, temperature) data and analysis, while Senslytics produces AI software for the energy industry. The companies say their partnership is “aimed at revolutionizing the landscape of science-backed decision-making in the upstream energy industry.”

Among other things, the joint venture will:

  • Combine GeoMark’s geochemical and PVT data repository with Senslytics’ AI algorithms to develop applications for various aspects of fluid property estimation during the drilling process.
  • Provide tools that help subject matter experts “train” AI tools for data-driven decision-making.
  • Contribute to thought leadership in the AI and geochemical/PVT sectors through vehicles such as conferences, webinars, and publications.

“GeoMark Research is passionate about using our data and expertise to advance subsurface fluid understanding. Faster, better information improves our customers’ free cash flow. We are thrilled to partner with Senslytics and embark on this transformative journey together,” Ethan Brown, president of GeoMark, says in a news release.

Blake Bixler, CEO of Senslytics, adds: “Together, we will push the boundaries of what AI can achieve by unlocking insights from our two companies’ technical experts.”

GeoMark was founded in 1991 with the goal of performing regional oil studies in newly explored basins.

Today, the company operates three labs that provide geochemical services, studies, and databases. The labs are in Houston, Humble, and Lafayette, Louisiana.

Katie Mehnert reflects on the progress Houston has made within the energy transition and future of work following her experience ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Photo courtesy of ALLY

Founder on ringing the NYSE bell and shining a spotlight on the future of energy in Houston

guest column

As I stood on the platform at the world’s largest stock exchange to ring the closing bell, surrounded by 130 people from across the energy industry, I saw it clearly: how the private sector will play a major role in getting us to an era of net zero. The people who power the energy industry will do the hard work. We’ve already begun. And we’re unafraid of the long journey ahead — something more than 40 of us exemplified that weekend by running a marathon.

The trip to New York City days ago was an exhilarating whirlwind. But it was also something much more: A chance to show the markets, the nation, and the world that Houston is leading the energy transition. (It didn’t hurt that we popped up on Good Morning America.)

From the beginning, the idea behind this pair of events — ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and running the TCS New York City Marathon — was aimed at sending crucial messages. That recognizing climate change and building solutions is an obligation and an opportunity. That the energy industry understands this. That investors have good reason to support climate tech, one of the most exciting and fastest growing sectors. And, last but not least, that people’s perceptions of Houston as being all about oil and gas are simply wrong.

The dozens of us who gathered came from across the country and around the world, But by far, the largest contingent was from right here in Houston. Executives, engineers, entrepreneurs, and other innovators took part. People spearheading projects in every facet of energy, from wind to solar, carbon capture, and other methods of dramatically reducing carbon emissions. All as one team.

Those who traveled from “the energy capital” knew how important it was to highlight our Houston pride. As a new report from the Texas Climate Tech Collective points out, the biggest problem in the city’s climate tech ecosystem is its image. “Outsider perceptions of Houston often draw on negative stereotypes,” the report explains. “The number one disadvantage survey respondents chose – even more than access to VC capital – was Houston’s anti-climate reputation outside the state.”

It’s a problem I’ve been trying to combat for years, including through op-eds in national and international media outlets. Fortunately, the idea is starting to get through. Just days ago, the Financial Times reported that Houston claimed the top spot in this year’s FT-Nikkei Investing in America rankings by “moving beyond oil.” Our city, the paper said, “has become a hub for green energy innovation by building on its hydrocarbon past.”

Houston, and Texas a whole, should be immensely proud of this. But the energy industry has a long history of failing to tell its own stories. It’s time to change that. In fact, the recommendations in the collective’s report include “campaigning to improve Houston’s reputation, improving promotion of Houston’s energy transition initiatives and accomplishments, educating politicians and consumers, reversing anti-climate perception.”

Photo courtesy of ALLY

Building bridges

All of the challenges we face, including the perception problem, will only be overcome if we work together. So the era of siloes must end. Climate change is an “all hands on deck” situation. This means companies large and small, as well as businesses focusing on all forms of energy, need to develop a “one-team” mentality.

We also need to step up our engagement with public sector entities. A great deal of public sector investment is being poured into renewable energy programs. Since I’ve served as an ambassador to the Department of Energy’s Equity in Energy initiative and a member of the National Petroleum Council, I’ve met many people in government who are eager to cooperate with us to help ensure that the United States leads the way in the energy transition.

The need for building these kinds of bridges is another reason that many of the participants in our Women & Allies in Energy team saw the New York City marathon as such a strong metaphor. It’s known for its bridges. And having run across all of them — and stopped for a quick selfie on the toughest one of all, the Queensboro Bridge — I’m reminded of their importance. I was happy to see that another recommendation in the collective’s report speaks directly to this. It calls for, “Building bridges between public and private, energy corporates and startups, universities and startups, and startups and mentors; seeking partnerships with other ecosystems; improving resources for early stage startups.”

We also need to build bridges among groups of people. More than ever, the industry needs diversity, equity and inclusion. (See my recent piece for Fast Company about why the C-Suite should double down, not shy away from, DEI.) We need to welcome people with all sorts of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. The greatest form of capital the energy sector has in building the future is not financial. It’s human capital. And the greatest natural resource we have is not one form of energy. It’s the people whose hard work, creativity, collaboration, and grit will get us to the finish line.

To help make all this happen, I’m calling for Houston to come together on climate change. Capitalizing on the annual Climate Week in New York City, and building on an event the City of Houston organized in 2021, let’s bring all industries and all people together next fall to show that we recognize climate reality, and are ready to take action together.

The next generation

While I did have the chance to lead the delegation at the NYSE closing bell, I did not hold the gavel — at least, not by myself. Instead, I handed it to my 12-year-old daughter, Ally. (Yes, her name is a big part of the inspiration behind our company name, ALLY Energy.)

As leaders in energy, we have to keep our eyes firmly focused on the next generation. This means not only giving them a strong supply of energy and healthier conditions on the planet. It also means giving them future job opportunities.

It’s up to us to build the pipeline for future talent. We need to improve STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education. And we need to demonstrate to people who are currently underrepresented in our industry — such as women and members of minority groups — that they have a future in the world’s most exciting industry.

We can do this. We can get out of our bubble, show our Houston pride to the world, and lead the way to “energy 2.0” — an era of plentiful energy supplies and net-zero emissions. After all, dozens of us have returned from New York City with a mission: capitalize on all that momentum, join together as a team, and run the race to net zero.

———

Katie Mehnert is founder and CEO of Ally Energy, a Houston-based talent and culture platform for the energy industry and 2023 Houston Innovation Award recipient.

Retirement is coming for the energy industry's workforce. Here's how to prepare for it. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert shares strategies for addressing the energy industry’s potential workforce shortages

guest column

The energy industry, a vital part of Houston’s business ecosystem, faces the challenge of a shrinking workforce.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce report indicates the workforce has nearly two million fewer workers today as compared to February 2020. A considerable part of this decline can be attributed to retirement and early retirement rates, with the pandemic prompting three million people to early retirement. Furthermore, with an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 daily, the entire generation is expected to reach retirement age by 2030.

The tight labor market, coupled with the growing brain drain associated with retirement rates, should serve as a wake-up call for employers in the energy sector. There are tried-and-true strategies to prepare businesses for waves of retirement and ensure the knowledge does not walk out the door.

Upskilling: Invest in the workforce 

Knowledge and skills go with workers are they retire. To mitigate the brain drain, companies need to invest in upskilling their existing employees and new hires. Establishing formal training and development opportunities can help enrich the workforce to pick up the responsibilities of retiring colleagues. This investment ensures a smooth transition, shows employees they are valued by the organization, and increases employee loyalty and engagement.

Adopting innovative training programs that cater to the specific needs of the energy sector is one approach. Technologies rapidly evolve, and employees must stay current to remain effective in their roles. Investing in the latest training programs, workshops and certifications will enable the workforce to thrive in a rapidly changing industry.

Mentoring programs: Pass the torch

Mentorship programs can play a pivotal role as more employees retire. Experienced employees nearing retirement can mentor younger workers, transferring knowledge and skills while ensuring a seamless transition of expertise. The value of mentorship programs can be priceless for an organization as they help transfer on-the-job learning and experiences that are not taught in the classroom.

A structured mentorship program usually proves most effective as it outlines the responsibilities of the mentors and mentees. A structured approach, which should have built-in accountability measures, ensures there is a productive knowledge transfer process.

Intentional recruitment: Attract and retain talent

A proactive recruitment approach is essential as businesses work to fill knowledge gaps. Companies in the energy sector should seek out talent to bridge the generational divide. This may include targeting candidates who have the relevant skills and knowledge, yet they are willing to adapt to the industry’s changing landscape.

Workplace culture is still a relevant and important component of attracting and retaining top-notch talent. Beyond competitive compensations packages, today’s job candidates look for growth opportunities and a focus on work-life balance.

Retaining knowledge: Document the expertise

Institutional knowledge will walk out the door as experienced employees retire. Companies can prepare for and mitigate the knowledge migration with knowledge-sharing systems and comprehensive documentation processes. An established process can help preserve information that may seem like second nature to more experienced employees and make it accessible to current and future employees. Asking retiring employees to document their expertise and best practices can safeguard their insights within the organization.

Covering bases: Create an alumni network

Retirement does not always mean the employee wants to hang up their proverbial hat entirely. Filling the knowledge gap as employees retire can be daunting. However, the development of an alumni network can extend the life of the institutional knowledge and knowledge-sharing process. Bringing back retirees on a project basis or to consult is a solution benefiting everyone involved.

Every industry must prepare for the impending wave of retirements. The energy industry’s significant impact on the Houston economy requires proactive and thoughtful solutions. The tight labor market and retirement rates should have businesses in this sector working diligently to fill the upcoming knowledge gaps through upskilling, mentoring, intentional recruitment, knowledge-sharing systems and alumni networks. Taking these steps now, the energy industry can circumnavigate workforce shortages and prepare for continued success.

———

Jill Chapman is a director of early talent programs with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

trying for DEI

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

———

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”

Houston organization celebrates zero waste goal

earth day win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2024 event included:

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