In his conversation with S&P Global's Daniel Yergin, Bill Gates discussed AI, Texas as an energy transition hub, and more. Photo via CERAWeek

Bill Gates, renowned co-founder of Microsoft and founder of Breakthrough Energy, took the CERAWeek stage to a standing-room-only crowd to discuss his thoughts on the future of energy.

He was joined in conversation with Daniel Yergin, author and vice chairman of S&P Global, at the luncheon on Thursday, March 21. His remarks touched on three themes within the energy transition.

Texas as a hub for energy transition

Yergin started off the conversation inquiring about Gates and his recent tour around Texas, which included visiting energy companies' plants and facilities and their local communities. Though it might surprise people, given the history of oil and gas in the state, Texas has a strong presence in the energy transition, Gates says.

“There is some irony in the fact that so many of the capabilities to embrace (the energy transition) are here in Texas, whether it's the workforce or the permitting,” he says at the event.

Gates adds that while most of the portfolio companies at Breakthrough Energy were founded on the coasts, many turn to Texas when it comes time for their first commercial pilot.

He addressed a progress report on the energy transition as a whole.

“It’s really starting to move. There’s a lot of exciting technologies, and a lot of the big companies are coming in,” he says, specifically noting energy companies' presence at COP28.

“A heroic effort is beginning — I’m very excited about it. But we shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it will be,” he says. “There’s a lot of things that have to happen for these projects to go ahead. It’s far more difficult than anything I worked on at Microsoft.”

Steel and nuclear have big potential for disruption

Gates continued this thought but highlighting that some industries are less advanced than others.

“We’re just at the beginning of many things," he adds, noting that "the steel industry today is 99 percent the traditional process."

With that, steel has a lot of potential to be disrupted, and Breakthrough Energy has two companies working to make the industry greener, but it's an industry that's going to take time to evolve.

Nuclear is another sector Gates is excited about but is developing at a slower pace. Breakthrough Energy has five portfolio companies focused on Nuclear, including TerraPower, which Gates co-founded in 2006.

Despite nearly two decades of development, Gates says TerraPower is a "fast-moving" nuclear company in comparison to other companies out there.

AI's impact is still to be determined

The topic of artificial intelligence inevitably came up, and Gates explains that the technology has come a long way. Microsoft owns a portion of OpenAI, which created ChatGPT. Gates says he expected AI to evolve and to be able to be programmed to understand information to take longer to develop.

“We have achieved a threshold — an unusual threshold because we know how we’ve caused the knowledge represented, but we don’t understand how at a semantic level how that knowledge is being represented,” Gates says.

AI's current applications are within white collar activities, Gates explains, citing writing a regulatory permit or looking at evidence in a lawsuit. He explains that current AI capabilities could continually grow or remain stagnant for a while, he isn't sure.

"The thing that’s daunting is we don’t know how quickly it will improve," he adds.

Gates didn't comment on energy specific AI applications but noted that AI has advanced far past robotics, which would target blue collar roles.

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

Meet TEX-E's new exec, a deadline not to miss, and more Houston energy transition things to know

take note

Editor's note: Start your week off strong with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a roundup of events not to miss, a Houston energy executive to know, and more.

Calling all energy tech startups

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and TEX-E have opened applications for their Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek, set to take place in the Agora program on March 20.

The pitch day will feature more than 40 energy ventures driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition showcasing their companies. The fast-paced competition is designed to connect energy startups with venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics and service providers.

Energy ventures for all tracks of the competition are asked to apply online by Feb. 9. Read more.

David Pruner named executive director of Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy (TEX-E)

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, which is comprised of partners including Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas. Additionally, Julia Johansson was appointed chief of staff for TEX-E and will oversee operations and administration responsibilities.

“Dave is the ideal leader for TEX-E to build on the great work that’s been done to develop a robust entrepreneurial energy ecosystem across these five impressive universities in Texas and to directly inspire and support university students to pursue entrepreneurial careers that will power our clean energy future,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. Read more.

Events not to miss

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

  • Future of Energy Summit is Tuesday, February 6, at AC Hotel by Marriott Houston Downtown. Register.
  • The De Lange Conference, taking place February 9 and 10 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, is centered around the theme “Brave New Worlds: Who Decides? Research, Risk and Responsibility” this year. Register.

Here are three things to know in Houston energy transition news. Photo via Getty Images

Texas EV climate disappoints, a new renewable exec, and more Houston energy transition things to know

take note

Editor's note: Start your week off strong with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a roundup of events not to miss, a Houston energy executive to know, and more.

Needs improvement: Texas finishes low on list of EV charging stations despite increased efforts in Houston

A SmartAsset study looked at the closest EV charging stations equivalent to a trip to the gas station — factoring in each state's population. California, with its 14,500 charging stations, has five times the EV charging stations as New York (3,327), Florida (2,913) and Texas (2,472). While California ranked No. 1 on the list, Texas found itself at No. 41.

The report used EV charger and station data for each state from the U.S. Department of Energy for 2022 and 2021. Population data is for 2022 and comes from the U.S. Census Bureau 1-Year American Community Survey. Cities were also ranked by the number of fast chargers per capita. In 2022, Texas had 1,386 fast DC chargers, 2,472 EV charging stations, and a fast charger growth year over year 53.5 percent. Read more.

Incoming:  Houston recycling company names new CEO

David Hudson has been named CEO of Elemental Recycling. The company, founded in 2019, is an investment of Freestone, a portfolio company of Tailwater Capital. He succeeds Tom Samuels, former CEO and board chair of the company.

"With over two decades of proven expertise in driving strategic growth and profitability across the recycling, waste management, sustainability, and decarbonization sectors, David brings a wealth of experience that makes him the ideal leader to take the reins and guide Elemental into its next phase of innovation and growth," Samuels says in a news release. "I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for the company under David's leadership. His proven track record and passion for driving positive change make him the perfect steward for the next chapter of Elemental's journey." Read more.

Events not to miss

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

  • The Houston Oil and Gas Executive Leadership Summit is an meeting of executives, policymakers, academics, and other professionals with a particular interest related to energy. The event is January 25 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Houston. Register.
  • Future of Energy Summit is Tuesday, February 6, at AC Hotel by Marriott Houston Downtown. Register.
  • The De Lange Conference, taking place February 9 and 10 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, is centered around the theme “Brave New Worlds: Who Decides? Research, Risk and Responsibility” this year. Register.

Here are three things to know in Houston energy transition news. Photo via Getty Images

Deloitte's new energy lead, a $7.4B deal, and more things to know this week

take note

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a roundup of events not to miss, a Houston energy executive to know, and more.

Incoming: Deloitte names new head of energy, chemicals practice

Teresa Thomas was named vice chair and national sector leader for energy and chemicals at Deloitte. She takes over the role from Amy Chronis, partner at Deloitte LLP, who will continue to serve within the energy and chemicals practice until her retirement in June 2024.

"I am fortunate to have worked in the energy and chemicals industry for most of my career, and I'm honored to continue working with companies that are playing a pivotal role in powering progress and purpose," Thomas says in a news release. "Our industry is at the epicenter of the energy transition that can fuel tremendous potential for society, and I'm excited to be leading during this important and transformational time."

Last year, Chronis announced her retirement from Deloitte, and the company named Melinda Yee as the incoming Houston managing partner at Deloitte, a role Chronis held in addition to the title of vice chair and US energy and chemicals leader. Chronis is slated to retire in June 2024, and Yee's new role became effective this month. Read more.

Events not to miss

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

  • Energy Underground's January meeting is on January 18 at noon at the Esperson Building. Register.
  • The Houston Oil and Gas Executive Leadership Summit is an meeting of executives, policymakers, academics, and other professionals with a particular interest related to energy. The event is January 25 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Houston. Register.
  • Future of Energy Summit is Tuesday, February 6, at AC Hotel by Marriott Houston Downtown. Register.
  • The De Lange Conference, taking place February 9 and 10 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, is centered around the theme “Brave New Worlds: Who Decides? Research, Risk and Responsibility” this year. Register.

Really big deal: Southwestern Energy to combine with Chesapeake in $7.4B deal

Chesapeake Energy and Southwestern Energy are combining in a $7.4 billion all-stock deal to form one of the biggest natural gas producers in the U.S.

The transaction, valued at $6.69 per share, will create a company that has large scale acreage in the Appalachia region and Haynesville, Louisiana. It has current net production of approximately 7.9 Bcfe/d with more than 5,000 gross locations and 15 years of inventory.

“The world is short energy and demand for our products is growing, both in the U.S. and overseas," Chesapeake CEO Nick Dell’Osso said in a prepared statement Thursday. "We will be positioned to deliver more natural gas at a lower cost, accelerating America’s energy reach and fueling a more affordable, reliable, and lower carbon future." Read more.

The De Lange Conference is taking place February 9 and 10 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

Upcoming Houston conference to address biology, technology and climate change

on the radar

Every other year, Rice University hosts a conference that addresses "issues of great concern to society," and this year will look at the intersection of technology, biology, and climate change.

The De Lange Conference, taking place February 9 and 10 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, is centered around the theme “Brave New Worlds: Who Decides? Research, Risk and Responsibility” this year. Chaired by Luis Campos, Baker College Chair for the History of Science, Technology and Innovation, the conference is an initiative of Rice’s faculty-led consortium Scientia Institute.

“We wanted to have a broad topic that would connect a lot of different disciplines and parts of campus,” Campos says in a news release. “Synthetic biology, the uses of data, climate change—whatever our field, job or profession, we have all heard of these things, and we all want to know more about them. So we’re bringing in scholars, scientists and artists to think about how these frontiers of scientific innovation and research relate to larger social contexts.

“Everybody is concerned with the future of their health, the future of their society, the future of the climate that they live in and the future of how their data is being used. This is a conference that weaves all those realms together with forms of artistic intervention and creative practice.”

Rice’s De Lange Conference explores future of synthetic biology, data technology and climate changewww.youtube.com

Attendees of the event can anticipate two days of discussions led by thought leaders, artistic interventions, screenings, and more from a roster of scientists, researchers, scholars, and artists. The full schedule is listed online.

The event is free to attend, but registration is required.

Here are three things to know in Houston energy transition news this week. Photo via Getty Images

3 things to know: Houston energy events not to miss, podcast to stream, and more

take note

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to know in Houston's energy transition: events not to miss, a podcast to stream, and more.

Events not to miss:

Add these events to your radar:

    • November 30 - Carbon to Value Initiative Year 3 Final Showcase will be streamed online. Register.
    • December 4 - Pumps & Pipes Annual Event is Houston's premier innovation gathering bringing together cross-industry leaders for engaging discussions and top tier networking opportunities. Register.
    • December 7 - Greentown Labs Investor Speaker Series: Both Sides of the Coin will host a thoughtful fireside chat followed by networking. Register.

    Deadline to be aware of: EnergyTech UP

    The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship will host the regional qualifier for a Department of Energy-backed student competition, and the application deadline to participate is coming up.

    The DOE's EnergyTech University Prize, or EnergyTech UP, a virtual regional qualifier hosted by the Rice Alliance will take place in February, and applications for students and faculty are now open. A $400,000 collegiate competition, the program challenges student teams to develop a business plan based off of National Laboratory-developed or other emerging energy technology.

    The application deadline is February 1 for students, and faculty have until January 5 to apply. Learn more.

    Podcast to stream: Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, on the Houston Innovators Podcast

    When it comes to the future of aviation — namely, making it more sustainable, a rising tide lifts all boats. Or, in this case, planes.

    Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, explains that working together is the key for advancing sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. That's why United Airlines started the Sustainable Flight Fund, a $200 million initiative with support from industry leaders, including Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase, Honeywell, Aramco Ventures, Bank of America, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Ventures, and several others.

    "We all recognize that we may compete in our core business, but with the importance of sustainable aviation fuel and given that it's an industry that doesn't exist — you can't compete for something that doesn't exist — let's collaborate and work together to explore technologies that can directly or indirectly support the commercialization and production of sustainable aviation fuel," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Read more.

    Ad Placement 300x100
    Ad Placement 300x600

    CultureMap Emails are Awesome

    Elon Musk sees more resistance against his multibillion dollar pay package

    just say no

    A second shareholder advisory firm has come out against reinstating a pay package for Tesla CEO Elon Musk that was voided earlier this year by a Delaware judge.

    ISS late Thursday joined Glass Lewis in recommending against the package, recently valued by the company at $44.9 billion but in January had a value of about $56 billion.

    Shareholders of the electric vehicle and solar panel company are voting on the package, with the results to be tabulated at Tesla's June 13 annual meeting.

    ISS said in its recommendations on Tesla's proxy voting items that Musk's stock-based package was outsized when it was approved by shareholders in 2018, and it failed to accomplish board objectives voiced at that time.

    The firm said that Tesla met the pay package’s performance objectives, and it recognized the company's substantial growth in size and profitability. But concerns about Musk spending too much time on other ventures that were raised in 2018 and since then have not been sufficiently addressed, ISS said.

    “The grant, in many ways, failed to achieve the board’s other original objectives of focusing CEO Musk on the interests of Tesla shareholders, as opposed to other business endeavors, and aligning his financial interests more closely with those of Tesla stockholders,” ISS wrote.

    Also, future concerns remain unaddressed, including a lack of clarity on Musk's future compensation and the potential for his pay to significantly dilute shareholder value, ISS wrote.

    Musk plays big roles in his other ventures including SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company. Last year he bought social media platform X and formed an artificial intelligence unit called xAI.

    Last week the other prominent proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, also recommended against reinstating Musk's 2018 compensation package. The firm said the package would dilute shareholders' value by about 8.7%. The rationale for the package “does not in our view adequately consider dilution and its long-lasting effects on disinterested shareholders,” Glass Lewis wrote.

    But in a proxy filing, Tesla said that Glass Lewis failed to consider that the 2018 award incentivized Musk to create over $735 billion in value for shareholders in the six years since it was approved.

    “Tesla is one of the most successful enterprises of our time,” the filing said. “We have revolutionized the automotive market and become the first vertically integrated sustainable energy company."

    Tesla is struggling with falling global sales, slowing electric vehicle demand, an aging model lineup and a stock price that has tumbled about 30% this year.

    Tesla asked shareholders to restore Musk's pay package after it was rejected by a Delaware judge this year. At the time, it also asked to shift the company’s legal corporate home to Texas.

    Glass Lewis recommended against moving the legal corporate home to Texas, but ISS said it favored the move.

    California’s public employee retirement system, which holds a stake in Tesla, said it has not made a final decision on how it will vote on Musk’s pay. But CEO Marcie Frost told CNBC that as of Wednesday, the system would not vote in favor. CalPERS, which opposed the package in 2018, said it will discuss the matter with Tesla “in the coming days.”

    In January, Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to the landmark stock compensation that was to be granted over 10 years.

    Ruling on a lawsuit from a shareholder, she voided the pay package, saying that Musk essentially controlled the board, making the process of enacting the compensation unfair to stakeholders. “Musk had extensive ties with the persons tasked with negotiating on Tesla’s behalf,” she wrote in her ruling.

    In a letter to shareholders released in a regulatory filing last month, Tesla Chairwoman Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the stock value and operational targets in the 2018 package. Shares at the time were up 571% since the pay package began.

    “Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value,” Denholm wrote. “That strikes us — and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard — as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it.”

    Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, but the value of its shares has eroded quickly this year as EV sales soften.

    The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year. Future growth is in doubt and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide.

    Starting last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla’s profit margins.

    In April, Tesla said that it was letting about 10% of its workers go, about 14,000 people.

    Things to know: $17.5B oil acquisition, new accelerator focuses on sustainability, and more in Houston energy

    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 podcast episode with a biotech leader, a very big oil and gas deal, and events not to miss.


    Big deal: ConocoPhillips to buy Marathon Oil for $17.B in all-stock deal

    ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $17.1 billion as energy prices rise and big oil companies reap massive profits.

    The deal to combine the two Houston-headquartered companies is valued at $22.5 billion when including $5.4 billion in debt.

    Crude prices have jumped more than 12% this year and the cost for a barrel rose above $80 this week. Oil majors put up record profits after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and while those numbers have slipped, there has been a surge in mergers between energy companies flush with cash. Continue reading.

    Podcast to stream: Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast

    Bioindustrial technologies have a high potential for impacting sustainability — but they tend to need a little bit more help navigating the startup valley of death. That's where the BioWell comes in.

    Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, says the idea for the accelerator was came to First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based biomanufacturing investment firm, as it began building its portfolio of promising companies.

    "While we were looking at various companies, we found ourselves finding different needs that these startups have," Estrada says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's how the opportunity for the BioWell came about." Continue reading.

    Events not to miss

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

    • The Energy Drone & Robotics Summit is coming to Houston June 10 to 12. Join for the ultimate event in the world for UAVs, Robotics & Data/AI, 3D Reality Capture, Geospatial and Digital Twins focused on the business and technology in energy & industrial operations, inspections, maintenance, surveying & mapping. Register now.
    • Argus Clean Ammonia North America Conference will take place on June 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Over the three days of the conference, explore the big questions many producers are facing around where demand is coming from, expect to hear perspectives from key domestic consumers as well as international demand centres for clean ammonia. Register now.
    • Join the over 150 senior energy and utilities leaders from June 17 to 18 in Houston for AI in Energy to unlock the potential of AI within your enterprise and delve into key areas for its development.Register now.
    • Energy Underground (June) is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition that connect monthly at The Cannon - West Houston. Register now.

    Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

    mixed reviews

    A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

    The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

    Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

    New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

    In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

    “And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

    The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

    Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

    “Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

    Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

    Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

    Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

    Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

    “Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

    ———

    This article originally ran on InnovationMap.