A Houston-based initiative has been selected by the DOE to receive funding to develop clean energy innovation programming for startups and entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston has been selected as one of the hubs backed by a new program from the United States Department of Energy that's developing communities for clean energy innovation.

The DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the the first phase of winners of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, Round 3. The local initiative is one of 23 incubators and accelerators that was awarded $150,000 to support programming for energy startups and entrepreneurs.

The Houston-based participant is called "Texas Innovates: Carbon and Hydrogen Innovation and Learning Incubator," or CHILI, and it's a program meant to feed startups into the DOE recognized HyVelocity program and other regional decarbonization efforts.

EPIC was launched to drive innovation at a local level and to inspire commercial success of energy startups. It's the third year of the competition that wraps up with a winning participant negotiating a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT worth up to $1 million.

“Incubators and Accelerators are uniquely positioned to provide startups things they can't get anywhere else -- mentorship, technology validation, and other critical business development support," DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT Vanessa Z. Chan says in a news release. “The EPIC program allows us to provide consistent funding to organizations who are developing robust programming, resources, and support for innovative energy startups and entrepreneurs.”

CHILI, the only participant in Texas, now moves on to the second phase of the competition, where they will design a project continuation plan and programming for the next seven months to be submitted in September.

where they’ll implement their programming and design a project continuation plan over the next 7 months. In September they will submit their plans with the hope of being selected to negotiate a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT, worth up to $1 million each.

Phase 2 also includes two national pitch competitions with a total of $165,000 in cash prizes up for grabs for startups. The first EPIC pitch event for 2024 will be in June at the 2024 Small Business Forum & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last fall, the DOE selected the Gulf Coast's project, HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, as one of the seven regions to receive a part of the $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The hub was announced to receive up to $1.2 billion — the most any hub will get.


The DOE's OTT selections are nationwide. Photo via energy.gov

Dow will occupy nearly two-thirds of office space at Midway's CityCentre Six office tower that's currently being built in the Energy Corridor. Photo courtesy of Midway

Dow digs up new office space in Houston's Energy Corridor

moving in

Dow Chemical has signed up to be the anchor tenant at the CityCentre Six office tower under construction in Houston’s Memorial City area.

Dow will occupy nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the 308,000 square feet of office space at the 19-story building, or about 200,000 square feet. The company will relocate employees there from its Houston Dow Center offices at Enclave Plaza in the Energy Corridor.

The current lease expires in 2026. Dow has leased the Energy Corridor space for 15 years.

Houston-based real estate investor and developer Midway recently broke ground on the $87.5 million, 320,000-square-foot CityCentre Six tower, which will be adjacent to the headquarters of Marathon Oil.

“Dow’s commitment as the anchor tenant has been a driving force behind the project’s strong momentum and underscores the strong leasing demand for CityCentre office space, which remains 100 percent leased,” says Chris Seckinger, vice president of investment and development at Midway. “Their presence not only confirms the tower’s status as a premier business destination but also reflects the confidence leading enterprises have in our vision for the district.”

Photo courtesy of Midway

The new tower, set to be completed in 2026, is one of the latest additions to the 47-acre CityCentre mixed-use development.

“Our plans for CityCentre’s north site have been in the works for almost a decade, and CityCentre Six is a significant step towards realizing our long-term vision for the development,” Seckinger said in a January 2024 news release.

Midway’s CityCentre Seven, a six-story office building and hotel, is also under construction at the mixed-use development. The Four Points by Sheraton Houston West hotel currently occupies the site.

While Houston isn't known as the coldest of climates, you still might want to review this myth-busting guest column. Photo via Pexels

Guest column: Cold weather and electric vehicles — separating fact from fiction

EVs in winter

Winter range loss is fueling this season’s heated debate around the viability of electric vehicles, but some important context is needed. Gasoline cars, just like their electric counterparts, lose a significant amount of range in cold weather too.

According to the Department of Energy, the average internal combustion engine’s fuel economy is 15 percent lower at 20° Fahrenheit than it would be at 77° Fahrenheit, and can drop as much as 24 percent for short drives.

As the world grapples with the implications of climate change and shifts toward sustainable technologies, it's important to put the pros and cons of EVs and traditional gas vehicles in perspective. And while Houston isn't known as the coldest of climates, you still might want to review this information.

The Semantics of Energy Consumption Hide the Real Issue: Cost

First, let's talk about the language. When discussing gas vehicles in cold climates, the conversation often centers around "fuel efficiency." It sounds less threatening, doesn't it? But in reality, this is just a euphemism for range loss, something for which EVs are frequently criticized.

Why does that matter? Because for most drivers who travel less than 40 miles a day, what range loss really means is higher fueling costs. When a gas vehicle loses range, it costs a lot more than the same range loss in an EV. For example, at $3.50 a gallon, a car that gets 30 MPG in warm weather and costs $46.67 to go 400 miles suddenly costs $8.24 more to drive the same distance. By contrast, an EV plugging in at $0.13 per kWh usually costs $13 to go 400 miles and bumps up to a piddly $16.25 even if it loses 20 percent efficiency when the temperature drops.

Some EV models lose 40 percent in extreme cold. OK, tack on another $3. That still leaves almost $30 in the driver’s pocket. Over the course of a year, those savings pile up.

Let’s Call It What It Is: Fear Mongering

Any seismic shift in technology comes with consumer hesitancy and media skepticism. Remember when everyone was afraid to stand in front of microwaves and thought the waves would make the food unsafe to eat? Or how, just a decade or so back everyone was talking about how cell phones could spontaneously explode?

Fear of new technology is a natural psychological response and to be expected. But it takes the media machine to turn consumer hesitation into a frenzy. Any way you slice it, 2023 was one big platform for expressing fears around EVs. Headline-grabbing tales of EV woes often lacked context or understanding of the technology. In a highly partisan landscape where EVs have been dubbed liberal leftist technology, what should be seen as a miraculous pro-American, pro-clean-air, pro-energy independence, pro-cost saving advancement is getting a beating in the press. In this environment, every bit of “bad EV news” spirals out into an echo-chamber of confirmation bias.

For example, Tesla’s recent software update was hyped as a 2 million vehicle “recall” even though the software was updated over the air without a single car needing to leave the driveway. Hertz's recent decision to reduce its Tesla fleet was seen by many as a referendum on the cars’ quality but was actually a decision based on Hertz’s miscalculations around repair costs and a mismatch in their projections of consumer demand for EV rentals.

While the cost of repairs might be higher, maintenance and fuel costs are still much lower than gas vehicles. EVs are better daily-use cars than rentals because while our country’s public charging infrastructure is still lagging, home charging is a huge benefit of EV ownership. Instead, the Hertz move and the negative coverage are further spooking the public.

The Truth About EVs

Despite the challenges, it's crucial to acknowledge the environmental advantages of EVs. For instance, EVs produce zero direct emissions, which significantly reduces air pollution and greenhouse gasses. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EVs are far more energy efficient than gas-powered cars, converting more than 77 percent of electrical energy from the grid to power, compared to 12-30 percent for gasoline vehicles.

This efficiency translates to a cleaner, more sustainable mode of transportation. And stories of EVs stranded in Chicago aside, generally they perform well in cold weather, as clearly demonstrated in Norway. In Norway, the average temperature hovers a solid 10 degrees lower than in the U.S. Yet 93 percent of new cars sold there are electric. The first-ever drive from the north to the south pole was also completed by an electric vehicle. The success story of EVs in Norway and demonstration projects in harsh winter climates serve as a powerful counterargument to the notion that EVs are ineffective in cold weather.

So where does this leave us? The discourse around EVs and gasoline vehicles in cold weather needs a more balanced and factual approach. The range loss in gasoline vehicles is a significant issue that mirrors the challenges faced by EVs. By acknowledging this and understanding the broader context, we can have a more informed and equitable discussion about the future of automotive technology and its impact on our environment.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.

Bracewell announced that Jennifer Speck has joined the firm's tax department as a partner in the Houston office. Photo via LinkedIn

Energy-focused law firm names new Houston partner

new hire

A law and government relations firm serving energy, infrastructure, finance, and technology industries has named a new Houston partner.

Bracewell announced that Jennifer Speck has joined the firm's tax department as a partner in the Houston office. Speck will advise clients on energy transition tax incentives.

Some of her experiences include onshore and offshore wind, solar, carbon capture, clean hydrogen and clean fuel projects. She recently served as senior manager of tax and regulatory compliance at Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC. She graduated in 2010 with a B.F.A. in mental health psychology from Northeastern State University, and received her J.D., with honors, from The University of Tulsa College of Law in 2012.

"Jenny has significant experience in critical tax credits for carbon capture and other energy transition projects," Elizabeth L. McGinley, chair of Bracewell's tax department, says in a news release. "Her knowledge of these, and other, tax incentives strengthens our ability to help clients take full advantage of the tax benefits available under the Inflation Reduction Act."

Nationally recognized, Bracewell's tax department is known for its experience involving tax matters related to the energy industry. Bracewell has also led the development of one of the country's largest multidisciplinary energy transition legal teams.

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.

    Houston is primed to become an energy tech hub amid ongoing energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

    Houston has what it takes to be a leading energy tech hub, says expert

    Guest column

    As the energy capital of the world, Houston has been a long-time leader in the energy industry, particularly oil and gas. With cutting-edge research and technological breakthroughs, unique talent of energy veterans and engineering know-how, the city is swiftly developing into a booming energy technology hub.

    Houston’s R&D, talent pool, energy infrastructure, and favorable business environment is fostering the growth of technology-driven energy initiatives. These factors differentiate Houston's energy tech ecosystem from other tech hubs in the U.S., in similar ways to how Silicon Valley has been known for technology and software and Boston and New York for biotech and fintech ecosystems, respectively.

    Primarily, Houston's proximity to major energy players has played a crucial role in its evolution as an energy technology hub. Around 34 percent of all publicly traded oil and gas companies in the U.S. are headquartered in the city. Even the energy companies that are headquartered outside of Houston (e.g., Exelon, Duke Energy, and NextEra Energy) have established their energy transition headquarters and plants/infrastructure here. This proximity enables energy technology startups easy access to market, expertise, resources, and funding, fostering a vibrant ecosystem that supports their growth.

    Moreover, with an expanding network of academic and commercial R&D activity, the city has become a rising hub of technological development. It currently houses more than 21 business research centers focusing on various aspects related to energy transition through design, prototype, and applied intelligence studios.

    For instance, the Greater Houston Partnership, a key organization in promoting Houston’s economic growth, has been actively involved in positioning the city as a leader in the global energy transition space. Some of the notable green energy startups leading Houston’s energy transition are Sunnova, Solugen, Fervo Energy, Syzygy Plasmonics, Ionada, and Energy Transition Ventures.

    The emergence of startup development organizations throughout the city, including workplaces, incubators, and accelerators, in recent years has fostered collaboration among founders, investors, and talent, thereby accelerating the rate of business formation and growth. Accelerators and incubators such as Halliburton Labs, Greentown Labs, The Ion District, and Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator are key supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship in Houston’s energy technology landscape.

    In addition, government funding is catalyzing Houston’s growth in energy tech. Most prominently, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is likely to stimulate greater investment in solar and wind energy, charging infrastructure, and electric vehicles in Houston. It will support the city’s R&D institutions and technology developers in pioneering energy transition for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCS/CCUS), hydrogen, and renewable fuels, resulting in a 13-fold increase in capital expenditure for infrastructure between 2024 and 2035.

    The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) also focus on promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies, many of which are coming out of Houston.

    Further, Houston has a strong talent pool with a workforce of three million individuals and the fourth largest concentration of engineers in the US. In 2022, the growth rate of tech employment in the region was 3.5 percent while the national growth rate was 3.2 percent.

    The energy industry, research institutions, and government are coming together in Houston to propel it to become a leader in energy technology. However, the city still has a ways to go: Houston needs to build more in non-traditional energy sectors (e.g. wind, solar, etc.), attract more entrepreneurs to start companies here, and get more investors to invest here. Having successful energy tech exits and reinvestment in new startups here would help.

    Houston has tremendous potential to lead energy technology, and with the rapidly growing focus of research, businesses, and government policies on energy transition. The confluence of energy tech players coming together in Houston is driving its evolution as an energy tech hub, making it an exciting place for new technologies and businesses to develop and grow, and reinvest in Houston.

    ---

    Michael Torosian is a partner in the corporate practice in the San Francisco office of Baker Botts. He is outside general counsel to emerging companies and their investors and advisors at all stages. This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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    CultureMap Emails are Awesome

    Law firm's Houston office expands energy expertise

    new hire

    Leading adviser to energy companies, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, has announced a new energy transactions partner in the firm’s Houston office.

    Ian Goldberg will advise clients on various energy transactions, which will include project development, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, and financial transactions that will involve oil and gas assets, energy transition investments and rare earth mineral deposits.

    He previously led the energy transactions practice at Hunton Andrews Kurth.

    “Akin has a top-tier integrated platform across the entire energy value chain,” Goldberg says in a news release.” I’m excited to be joining a growing and dynamic team.”

    He will be joining recent additions to Akin’s energy practice that include projects & energy transition partners Ike Emehelu (New York), Alex Harrison, Matt Hardwick and Dan Giemajner (London), energy regulatory partners Emily Mallen and Stephen Hug (Washington, D.C.), tax equity partner Sam Guthrie (Washington, D.C.) and projects & energy transition partner Vanessa Richelle Wilson (Washington, D.C.)..

    “Ian adds depth to our energy team with extensive experience in the onshore and offshore upstream and midstream sectors, and his current representation of clients in the carbon capture, utilization & storage and hydrogen spaces further strengthens our growing projects & energy transition practice,” corporate practice co-head Zachary Wittenberg adds in the release.

    Shell fuels energy transition with roll out of EV charging stations

    coming soon

    As it downshifts sales of fuel for traditional vehicles, energy giant Shell is stepping up its commitment to public charging stations for electric vehicles.

    In a new report on energy transition, Shells lays out an aggressive plan for growing its public network of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs). The company plans to boost the global number of public EV charging stations from about 54,000 today to around 70,000 by 2025 and about 200,000 by 2030.

    The projected growth from today to 2030 would represent a 270 percent increase in the number of Shell-operated EV charging stations.

    “We have a major competitive advantage in terms of locations, as our global network of service stations is one of the largest in the world,” Shell says in the report.

    Shell’s global network of service stations is shrinking, though. In the report, the company reveals plans to close a total of 1,000 gas stations in 2024 and 2025. Today, more than 45,000 Shell-branded gas stations are located in over 90 countries.

    Aside from Shell gas stations, the company’s Shell Recharge business unit operates public EV charging stations along streets, at grocery stores, and at other locations in 33 countries.

    Shell, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston, is ramping up its EV charging network amid forecasts of slowing demand for oil and rising demand for EVs. Other than EV charging, Shell is focusing on biofuels and integrated power as components of its revamped product mix.

    “Shell is well positioned to become a profitable leader in public charging for electric vehicles, meeting the growing demand from drivers who need to charge on the go,” the report says.

    To accelerate its EV charging presence in the U.S., Shell in 2023 purchased Volta, a San Francisco-based operator of EV charging stations. Shell says it now operates one of the largest public EV charging networks in the U.S., with more than 3,000 charging points in 31 states and another 3,400 under development.

    “The availability of charging points will be critical for the growth in electric vehicles,” the report says.

    Last month, Shell divested from a solar energy subsidiary, before later announcing an exit from a wind energy joint venture.

    "In-line with our Powering Progress strategy, Shell continues to hone our portfolio of renewable generation projects in key markets where we have an advantaged position," Glenn Wright, senior vice president at Shell Energy Americas, said in a news release at the time.