Looking back at top energy transition news from the year, a podcast to stream, and more of what to know going into the last week of 2023. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: looking back on top news from 2023, a podcast to stream, and more.

LYB acquires German plastic waste sourcing and engineering company

Houston-based LyondellBasell, rebranded recently to LYB, announced earlier this month that it has acquired a minority share in Source One GmbH, Leiferde, Germany, a plastic waste sourcing and engineering company, that specializes specifically in solutions for hard-to-recycle post-consumer plastic waste. This investment gives LYB access to Source One's engineering and plastic waste sourcing services, according to a news release.

"We are committed to support the growing demand of our customers for circular solutions," says Yvonne van der Laan, LyondellBasell executive vice president of Circular and Low Carbon Solutions, in the news release. “With the investment in Source One we are taking another important step to secure access to plastic waste for our recycling activities and to strengthen our Circulen product portfolio of material made from recyclable or renewable resources.”

Podcast: Moji Karimi of Cemvita talks COP28, growth of the company, and more

Moji Karimi, CEO and co-founder of Cemvita, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week before he had even recovered from jet lag to talk about his biggest takeaways from 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties, more commonly known as COP28.

"It was a pretty amazing experience," Karimi says, comparing the event to how CERAWeek has evolved to really have a strong presence in its innovation-focused track called Agora. "This year you had a massive section for innovation and sustainability. I think that will become a theme in COP29 and beyond to bring entrepreneurs, investors, and more participating in the event."

Karimi's three big observations are outlined here, as is the full podcast with him sharing more about Cemvita's growth this year.

Major solar energy projects announce deals — and other top solar energy stories on EnergyCapital this year. Photo by Pixabay

Looking back: 5 most-read Houston solar energy stories of 2023

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, EnergyCapital is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston energy transition. Houston's really charged up about the impact of solar energy has on lowering emissions amid the energy transition. Several stories of solar project news and even a Q&A with a Houston solar executive resonated with readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.

DOE loans Houston company $3B for project that will provide solar energy to underserved communities

Houston-based Sunnova Energy has secured a loan from the Department of Energy. Photo via sunnova.com

A partial loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy will support more than $5 billion in loans for Sunnova Energy equipment and technology that’ll supply solar energy to underserved communities.

The $3 billion partial loan guarantee equates to a 90 percent guarantee of up to $3.3 billion in loans. In turn, Sunnova says, that’ll support more than $5 billion in loans to about 75,000 to 115,000 U.S. households. It’s said to be the largest single commitment to solar power ever made by the federal government.

At least 20 percent of the Project Hestia loans will be extended to customers with FICO credit scores of 680 or less, and up to 20 percent of the loans will be earmarked for homeowners in impoverished Puerto Rico. Read the full article from October.

Texas company secures $200M for solar project near Houston

The project will take over more than 1,000 acres of former farmland about an hour outside of Houston. Photo via Getty Images

An Austin-based company has scored $200 million in financing for a solar energy project it’s building in Liberty County.

Recurrent Energy’s 134-megawatt Liberty Solar project, about 50 miles northeast of Houston, is scheduled to start operating in 2024. The facility will occupy more than 1,000 acres of former farmland about six miles south of Dayton.

Last year, Recurrent Energy indicated the project represented an investment of $155 million, according to paperwork filed with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

The company lined up $120 million in financing through Rabobank, Nord LB, and U.S. Bank in the form of construction debt, a letter-of-credit facility, and a term facility. In addition, U.S. Bancorp Impact Finance, a subsidiary of U.S. Bank, is providing $80 million in tax equity. Read the full article from September.

Houston solar exec says a major key to slowing climate change is offering energy independence

John Berger, CEO of Houston-based Sunnova, explains the importance of energy independence and solar's role in achieving it. Courtesy of Sunnova

Following extreme temperatures and increasing grid instability this summer, CEO and Chairman of the board of residential solar power service company Sunnova Energy Corp., John Berger, is encouraging individuals to take charge of their energy needs.

Berger founded the Houston-grown company back in 2012, before solar energy was seen as a hip, clean power source. Now, Sunnova (NYSE: NOVA) is a leader in residential solar installations.

In a discussion with EnergyCapital Berger broke down misconceptions about solar power, predicted the rise of the home as a power station, and highlighted the importance of energy independence. Read the full interview from September.

Global energy company opens solar farm outside of Houston

TotalEnergies' new solar farm outside of Houston is the size of 1,800 football fields. Photo via totalenergies.com

A global energy corporation has a new solar farm online and operating just outside of Houston.

TotalEnergies (NYSE: TTE) has started commercial operations of its new solar farm, Myrtle Solar, just south of Houston. The farm has a capacity of 380 megawatts peak of solar production and 225 MWh of co-located batteries. Spread across the space — which is about the size of 1,800 football fields — are 705,000 solar panels producing enough electricity to power 70,000 homes.

Seventy percent of the power generated will be sourced for TotalEnergies' industrial plants in the U.S. Gulf Coast region, and the remaining 30 percent will be used by Kilroy Realty, a publicly traded real estate company, per a 15-year corporate power purchase agreement. Read the full article from October.

BP breaks ground​ on Texas solar farm, plans to open it next year

BP's solar park is scheduled to begin operating in the second half of 2024. Photo via bp.com

British energy giant BP, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston, has started construction on a 187-megawatt solar farm about 10 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.

The Peacock Solar facility will generate power for a nearby chemical complex operated by Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, a joint venture between Spring-based energy company ExxonMobil and SABIC, a Saudi Arabian chemical conglomerate whose products are used to make clothes, food containers, packaging, agricultural film, and construction materials. SABIC’s Americas headquarters is in Houston.

Gulf Coast Growth Ventures opened the plant in 2022. The joint venture says the ethylene cracker and derivatives complex, located northwest of the town of Gregory, employs about 600 people. Read the full article from October.

From business advice to Houston energy transition observations, here's what expert contributor content was the most read on EnergyCapital this year. Photo via Getty Images

Here are this year's most-read guest columns from Houston energy experts

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, EnergyCapital is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston energy transition. Each week, we've published one or two guest contributor pieces ranging in topic from business advice to industry observations. There are five from this year that readers really gravitated toward — be sure to click through the links below to read the full story.


4 layoff alternatives energy businesses should consider in a downturn, according to this Houston expert

Here's what you should consider if you need to make cuts to your business — now or in the future. Photo via Getty Images

Preparing for a potential economic downturn can be unsettling for employers and employees. As payroll is typically one of the largest expenditures for a business, no matter its size, layoffs seem like the quickest fix. While this may offer short-term relief, they can severely impact operations and workplace culture.

When staff is reduced, culture can suffer. Employee morale can decrease and distrust may build, especially if layoffs are not communicated properly. This can lead to the remaining employees feeling anxious about their own future with the organization and spur them to look for employment elsewhere, which can affect an organization’s overall productivity and day-to-day operations.

Business owners should get creative and consider the impact and the many alternatives before resorting to workforce reductions. Continue reading the article by Karen Leal of Insperity.

Finding a Balance: Growing renewable energy vs. grid resilience in Texas

Balancing renewable energy growth and grid resilience requires a multifaceted approach. Photo via Getty Images

The global energy sector is on an exhilarating trajectory, teeming with promising technologies and unprecedented opportunities for a sustainable future. Yet, we find ourselves grappling with the challenges of reliability and affordability. As both a researcher in the field of power electronics and a consumer with bills to pay, I find myself experiencing mixed feelings.

As a researcher, I am thrilled by the progress we have achieved, particularly in energy conversion. The exponential growth of renewable energy technologies in Texas and beyond, including wind turbines and solar PV systems, is cause for celebration. These innovations, coupled with supportive policies, have facilitated widespread deployment and the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change, and create a brighter future for our children.

While renewable energy resources can play a crucial role in maintaining the supply-demand balance of the grid, as they did by performing very well during the recent 2023 Texas heat wave, their intermittent and unpredictable nature can also pose a significant challenge to the power system. Unlike traditional power plants that operate continuously, wind turbines and solar PV systems rely on weather conditions for optimal performance. Fluctuations in wind speed, cloud cover, and sunlight intensity can lead to imbalances between energy supply and demand. This imbalance will worsen as the anticipated influx of electric vehicles and their charging needs come into play. Continue reading the article by Harish Krishnamoorthy of the University of Houston.

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

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

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. Continue reading the article by Katie Mehnert of Ally Energy.

Houston faces critical inflection point amid energy transition, says expert

The question the Houston business community must be able to answer today is “Are we going to be ready for 2035?” Photo via Getty Images

In 1914, Winston Churchill faced a difficult decision. Over two decades before his first term as Prime Minister during World War 2, he oversaw the entire Royal Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty. Shipbuilding technology was rapidly evolving in that era and one of the key questions was whether to use coal or oil as fuel for the large ships in the fleet. Coal was the more proven technology at that point and the British had a strong supply chain across the Empire. Oil was lighter and easier to operate, but the worldwide supply and infrastructure were still limited.

Ultimately Churchill was persuaded by Admiral Jacky Fisher and others to convert the entire fleet to oil. To resolve the supply chain issue, the British government bought a majority stake in Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which became BP. The Royal Navy was possibly the largest consumer of fuel worldwide at the time, so this decision had a major effect on the energy transition in that era. Within 30 years, steam engines were no longer used for transportation in most of the world.

In that same decade, Houston emerged as a leading energy hub in the United States: Humble Oil was founded, the Houston Ship Channel was dredged, and the Baytown Refinery was constructed. World War I in Europe, and the mass adoption of cars in the US spurred a major increase in demand for oil. Oil went on to dominate the global energy market, providing cheap and reliable transportation, industrial production, and materials. Houston grew and prospered along with it to become the 5th largest metro area in the country today. Continue reading the article by Drew Philpot of Blended Power.

Houston can help unlock the key to a viable energy transition

Houston’s broad energy sector can attract engineering expertise and clean tech talent, serving as a locus for knowledge-sharing on the financial and operational challenges ahead in the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

The future of energy holds monumental and diverse expectations. Houston’s long history as the hub for oil and gas development – combined with its growing and important role in development of renewables, carbon capture, and other energy innovation – makes it a critical meeting point for discussions on strategy, investment, and stakeholder engagement in the energy transition.

In our research last fall, we detailed how the oil and gas industry was embracing capital discipline and prioritizing shareholder returns. The industry generated record cash flows and offered a combined dividend and share buyback yield of 8 percent in 2022—the highest among all industries. The industry’s commitment to maintaining capital discipline and investing in viable low-carbon projects has only strengthened in 2023.

In fact, according to our most recent research, the global upstream oil and gas industry is estimated to generate between $2.5 trillion to $4.6 trillion in free cash flow between 2023 and 2030. With capital availability not posing a significant constraint, boardrooms of oil and gas companies are engaged in discussions regarding capital allocation between hydrocarbons and low-carbon solutions, while striving to achieve desired rates of return and meet stakeholder expectations for dividend payouts. Continue reading the article by Amy Chronis and Kate Hardin of Deloitte.

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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

M&A moves

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.