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.

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 listen to, and more

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: events not to miss, a podcast to stream, and more.

Events not to miss

Add these events to your radar:

  • 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.
  • December 19 — UH Tech Bridge's Innov8Hub Pitch Day is your last chance of the year to network with industry experts, and discover the next big thing. Register.

Deadline to be aware of: EnergyTech UP

Transocean, a Switzerland-based offshore energy leader with its United States headquarters in Houston, kicked off its Transocean Open Innovation Challenge this fall. The original deadline has been extended to December 15, and the program is in partnership with the Ion. The submission page is available online.

Finalist selection will be hosted digitally in February, and the demo day and winner announcement will be in March at the Ion. The winner will have the potential opportunity to run a field trial with Transocean,Amajor energy corporation has put its feelers out for Houston innovators solving for challenges within the decarbonization of offshore drilling operations.

The application deadline is December 15 to apply. Learn more.

Podcast to stream: Jason Bock of ZettaWatts on the Energy Tech Startups podcast

For Jason Bock, a cleaner future is personal. That's why his company, ZettaWatts, is making clean energy more affordable and available.

In this Energy Tech Startups episode, we dive deep into the world of energy transition technologies with Beck from ZettaWatts. Jason shares his unique perspective on the evolving energy landscape, the importance of climate journeys, and the innovative solutions ZettaWatts is bringing to the table.

The conversation with Beck offers a glimpse into the exciting world of energy transition. As we move towards a more sustainable future, it's essential to stay informed and engaged with the latest developments in the sector.


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

Houston faces critical inflection point amid energy transition, says expert

guest column

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.

Over a century later, the global energy industry may be at a similar inflection point. According to IEA, the electric vehicle market more than tripled from 4 percent in 2020 to 9 percent in 2021 to 14 percent in 2022. Major automakers like GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Volvo have pledged to become all-electric by early-to-mid 2030s. Similar commitments are being made in commercial trucking and shipping.

At the same time, the electric power grids in the United States and many other nations are undergoing a rapid shift to renewable energy. Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) report showed that by 2015, wind and utility-scale solar power in the US were cheaper than all other technologies on a $/MWh basis; the gap has only grown wider since. EIA data on new power generation capacity in the US for 2020-2023 shows that solar, wind, and energy storage combined have ranged from 74 percent to 81 percent while natural gas has ranged from 14 percent to 22 percent and other fuels less than 5 percent.

All of these figures show market trends that are already happening, not projections of what may happen if the technologies improve. This leads to a natural question: will the growth of EVs and renewable energy reach a limit and tail off? Or will this trend continue until the internal combustion engine and fossil fuel power are replaced like steam engines were before? Both EVs and renewable energy are experiencing insatiable market demand in developed markets but have hit other barriers such as supply chain and infrastructure. However, just as the oil industry itself demonstrated in the past, those constraints can be overcome if the push is strong enough.

The year 2035, only 12 years away, is a major deadline for the transition. The US government and the EU have both set it as a target to complete the transition to EVs. In the US electric power industry, BloombergNEF projects that 126 GW of US coal power will retire before then. S&P also forecasts 85 GW of new energy storage will be online, which will help resolve intermittency and transmission issues that have limited the role of renewable energy up to now. That paints a picture of a radically different energy industry from the one we see today; one with oil demand at a fraction of its current levels and natural gas demand in rapid decline as well.

These market trends have drawn a variety of responses in Houston and other energy hubs, ranging from enthusiastic adoption to cautious skepticism to firm denial. Two recent examples of this range are BP CEO Bernard Looney advocating for continued investment in renewable energy and Shell CEO Wael Sawan emphasizing a move away from them due to lower returns. Business leaders should always be aware of threats to their long-term operations, regardless of their personal opinions on an issue. While demand for oil generally remains strong, every business in the energy industry should be prepared for the scenario that all new cars sold in a decade are electric. There is a graveyard of companies like Kodak, Sears, and Blockbuster Video that failed to act on an existential market threat until it was too late.

Plans for the transition can look different from company to company, but Houston is full of resources that can help with planning and deployment. The workforce, financial sector, and professional services can adapt to new energy technologies from their existing oil and gas expertise. Industry organizations like the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, Renewable Energy Alliance Houston, and the energy policy centers at Rice University and the University of Houston can help leaders make connections and discuss new technologies.

The burden is on every business leader to make use of the time remaining, not only to make plans for the changes coming in the energy industry, but to implement those plans. The question the Houston business community must be able to answer today is “Are we going to be ready for 2035?”

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Drew Philpot is president of Blended Power, a renewable energy consulting practice based in Houston.

University of Houston gets new funding, events not to miss, and more things to know this week. Photo via UH.edu

3 things to know this week: Baker Hughes makes moves, events not to miss, and more

Hou knew?

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to know in Houston's energy transition ecosystem. Baker Hughes makes headlines, a new energy innovation leader has been named, and three events to add to your August calendar.

Baker Hughes's energy transition moves

Last week, if you were reading EnergyCapital carefully, you may have noticed two different stories from Houston-based Baker Hughes.

The Baker Hughes Foundation granted $100,000 to the University of Houston Energy Transition Institute. The funding will work towards the ETI’s goals to support workforce development programs, and environmental justice research. UH's ETI launched a year ago through a $10 million grant from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc. Read more.

Also last week, Baker Hughes announced that it has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Virginia-based Avports. The agreement is "to develop, implement and operate onsite microgrid solutions for the airport industry," according to a news release from Baker Hughes, with a goal of reducing emissions and work toward a future with zero-emission infrastructure, including buildings, vehicles, etc.

"Baker Hughes' commitment to emissions reductions has allowed us to develop and successfully deploy low-carbon and hydrogen technologies to advance the energy transition in many industries," Bob Perez, vice president of project development at Baker Hughes, says in a statement. "The opportunity to bring these solutions to airports, in collaboration with Avports' proven track record in airport management, is very promising as the increasing needs and demands of these infrastructures must be more resilient, efficient and cost-effective." Read more.

Person to know: Timmeko Moore Love

Greentown Labs has named its inaugural Greentown Houston general manager. The climatetech incubator named Timmeko Moore Love to the role last week.

“Greentown Labs is committed to ensuring founders’ success and is an agent of action in the fight against climate change,” says Love in the release. “I am excited to continue my service to the Greater Houston climate innovation ecosystem through this esteemed platform, and partner internally and externally to evolve and expand our services and programs.” Read more.

Upcoming events to put on your radar

It's a slow week for energy transition events, but here are three later this month you need to know about.

  • August 22-23 — SPE Energy Transition Symposium's goal is to deliver a prominent and dedicated energy transition event by collecting and disseminating the knowledge from industry leaders, technical experts, academicians, practitioners, financial community and ESG leaders, and together through collaboration, advance the conversations, technology and exchanges that will move our industry forward.
  • August 28-30 — Industrial IMMERSIVE Week attracts the most industrial, energy, and engineering tech professionals making investment, strategy and tactical decisions, or building, scaling and executing pioneering XR/3D/Simulations, digital twin, reality capture, edge /spatial computing, AI/ML, connected workforce & IIoT projects within their enterprise.
  • August 30-31 — Carbon & ESG Strategies Conference, presented by Hart Energy, will highlight carbon capture and storage projects and technologies onshore and offshore, direct air capture, enhanced oil recovery, responsibly sourced gas, renewable natural gas, federal funding challenges and insurance issues, ESG initiatives, regulatory concerns and much more.

According to the facts, Houston's energy transition is moving in the right direction. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Houston's energy transition economy sees momentum, including $6.1B in financing in 2022

Houston facts

In Houston, the energy transition movement is in full effect — at least, according to the facts and figures from a recently released report.

The Greater Houston Partnership released its 2023 Houston Facts report, which analyzes the business community across sectors. The report highlights the fact that last year Houston's energy transition brought in $6.1 billion in financing from private market investments, which represents a 61.9 percent increase compared to 2021.

"Over the last five years, Houston has seen constant growth in annual energy transition investments, with a notable surge observed from 2020 onwards," reads the report.

Corporate and strategic merger and acquisition investments are what dominated the five deal types, according to the report, representing 68.8 percent of the total investment in 2022. Additionally, private equity accounted for 19.3 percent of all deals, with venture capital comprising 9.5 percent.

Source: GHP analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP)

According to Houston Facts, there are 550 Houston-based energy transition companies working in battery/energy storage, biofuels, carbon capture, use, and storage, circular economy, and other energy value chains.

The report also looked at clean energy job growth, which increased from 66,047 professionals in the Houston metro area in 2021 to projected increase to 71,305 jobs in 2022. The fastest growing type of clean energy job is within energy efficiency, a section that accounts for 68.1 percent of total clean energy employment last year, which increased 28.2 percent from 2021. Additionally, clean vehicle employment also saw a 14.7 percent increase while job counts in grid and storage and clean fuel applications declined notably in 2022, per the report.

Compared nationally, personal finance website SmartAsset recently ranked the Houston metro area as the fifth best place in the U.S. for green jobs, which pay an average of 21 percent more than other jobs. The SmartAsset study found that 2.23 percent of workers in the Houston area hold down jobs classified as “green.”

Source: GHP analysis and estimates of data from the U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) and The Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), BW Research Partnership (BWRP) and E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs)

The report also analyzed Houston's progress when it comes to emissions. Here are some of the Houston Facts on emission data from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency and the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program:

  • Houston's power plant sector was as the largest greenhouse gas emitter with 43.2 percent of the region's total industrial emissions, and the sector has had an overall increasing trend over the past few years.
  • With 27.5 percent of industrial emissions, the chemicals sector came in No. 2, but the sector peaked in 2018, slightly declined in 2019, and have remained relatively constant through 2021.
  • Refineries ranked third, with for 21.2 percent of emissions, and have remained stable without notable increase over the past few years.
  • Petroleum and natural gas sector emissions have consistently increased since 2012, except for 2017. That year, Houston's overall emission rate reached its lowest point in the past decade at 225.1 mtCO2e.
  • Currently, Houston's emission rate is slightly below the highest point of the past ten years, which was 243.2 mtCO2e recorded in 2012.
Houston Facts, as well as other reports and resources, is available on GHP's website.
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Innovative Houston energy company opens orders for groundbreaking tech following successful testing

coming in hot

Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics is charging ahead with the world’s first light-powered reactor cell for industrial chemical reactions.

Syzygy says its Rigel reactor cell has met initial performance targets and is now available to order. The cell enables a customer to produce up to five tons of low-carbon hydrogen per day.

Syzygy has completed more than 1,500 hours of testing of the cell to generate hydrogen from ammonia. Testing of the ammonia e-cracking cell began in late 2023 and is still taking place.

The company hopes to capitalize on market demand in places like Asia and Europe. Syzygy says importers of liquified natural gas (LNG) in these places are being required to seek low-carbon alternatives, such as low-carbon ammonia. Some of this ammonia will be cracked to produce hydrogen for sectors like power generation and steel production.

Syzygy’s technology harnesses energy from high-efficiency artificial lighting to e-crack ammonia, eliminating the need for combustion. When powered by renewable electricity, Rigel cell stacks can deliver hydrogen from low-carbon ammonia.

“The testing at our Houston facility is going exceptionally well,” Syzygy CEO Trevor Best says in a news release.

The company is now ready to deliver projects capable of producing five tons of hydrogen per day. By 2025, Best says, 10-ton installations should come online. A year later, Syzygy expects to graduate to 100-ton projects.

Last year, Syzygy received a major boost when Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America invested in the company. The amount of the investment wasn’t disclosed.

In 2022, Syzygy raised $76 million in series C funding in a round led by Carbon Direct Capital.

———

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Greentown Houston announces new investor program to increase equity in climatetech funding

calling all funders

Greentown Labs has announced a new program to address inequity and unavailability of funding for early-stage climatetech startups.

The Houston Ion District Investor Activation Program is supported by a Build to Scale Capital Challenge grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, open to accredited investors, and free to join.

Participating investors will have access to curated startup introductions based on preferred stage, industry, check size, and more, plus access to information on startups and investor-specific newsletters featuring Greentown startups invite-only events.

"This program brings early-stage investors from Greater Houston into the fold, offering education on climatetech investing, channeling a pool of capital to young startups, and catalyzing a thriving climatetech investment ecosystem that prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion," reads the email announcing the program.

Members will also get networking opportunities with fellow investors and leading climatetech startups, which includes investor roundtables. Sector Pitch Days, and more Educational workshops on climatetech investing run by Vinson & Elkins, and more will be made available. The new initiative is meant “ to strengthen Houston’s energy-transition ecosystem” according to a news release.

In 2023, Greentown Labs helped 87 corporate partners, and collaborated with over 70 Houston startups. Some of their members recently achieved success in their respective fields.

Report: Texas shines as top state for new solar, battery capacity

by the numbers

On a state-by-state basis, Texas will account for the biggest share of new utility-scale solar capacity and new battery storage capacity in 2024, a new federal report predicts.

The report, published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), says Texas will make up 35 percent of new utility-scale solar capacity in the U.S. this year, followed by California (10 percent) and Florida (six percent).

In 2024, EIA expects a record-setting addition of 36.4 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity across the U.S., nearly double last year’s record-setting addition of 18.4 gigawatts. One gigawatt of electric-generating capacity can power an average of 750,000 homes.

“As the effects of supply chain challenges and trade restrictions ease, solar continues to outpace capacity additions from other generating resources,” the report states.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Environment Texas Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group found that Texas ranks third in the U.S. for residential solar power generation. Residential solar power generation in Texas grew 646 percent from 2017 through 2022, according to the report.

A February 2023 poll conducted by the University of Houston indicated that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Texas homeowners are somewhat or very interested in buying a solar energy system.

“Texas is already soaking up the benefits of rooftop solar,” says Luke Metzger, executive director of the Environment Texas center. “With federal tax credits in place to boost solar adoption in Texas, now is the time to lean in. Every sunny roof without solar panels is a missed opportunity.”

In addition to a spike in utility-scale solar, the EIA report forecasts Texas will lead the way this year in the addition of battery storage capacity, with the expected addition of 6.4 gigawatts. In second place is California, with an expected 5.2 gigawatts of new battery storage capacity. The two states will make up 82 percent of new U.S. battery storage capacity in 2024, says the report.

The federal agency predicts 14.3 gigawatts of U.S. battery storage capacity will be tacked on this year to the existing 15.5 gigawatts.

Overall, EIA anticipates solar will make up 58 percent of all new utility-scale electric-generating capacity this year in the U.S., followed by battery storage at 23 percent.