U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm made two big announcements at her CERAWeek address. Photo via Jennifer Granholm/X

The Department of Energy announced two major initiatives at U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm's address earlier this week at CERAWeek by S&P Global.

The first announcement Granholm revealed on Monday, March 18, at her keynote address was the DOE's latest Pathways to Commercial Liftoff report, which are initiatives established to provide investors with information of how specific energy technologies commercialize and what challenges they each have to overcome as they scale.

"We develop these Liftoff Reports through a combination of modeling and hundreds and hundreds of interviews with people across the whole investment lifecycle—from early-stage capital to commercial banks and institutional investors," Granholm says in her address.

The DOE has released eight already, and the ninth — and Granholm's favorite, she says — is on geothermal energy.

"Geothermal has such enormous potential. If we can capture the 'heat beneath our feet,' it can be the clean, reliable, base-load scalable power for everybody from industries to households," she says.

Geothermal development requires similar skills and infrastructure to traditional oil and gas, meaning the transition should be smooth, she explains, adding that the market is huge for geothermal.

"At scale, this market is significant: We're talking about at least—at least—a $250 billion investment opportunity to meet the goal that we have of 90 gigawatts of capacity by 2050," she remarks.

Granholm's address shifted into acknowledging the negative impact on communities the energy industry's history is paved with. She emphasizes how each of the Biden Administration's laws passed — like the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — implemented requirements and incentives with communities in mind.

The administration's next initiative, and Granholm's second big announcement, is "to empower communities to build their energy future."

Regional Energy Democracy Initiative, or REDI, as Granholm describes, will "bring together companies, and community groups, and academic institutions, and philanthropy to weave equity and justice into DOE-funded clean energy projects."

The inaugural pilot will be in the Gulf South across Texas and Louisiana. She says the DOE plans to award over $8 billion to regional carbon reduction and clean energy infrastructure projects.

"These structures will provide capacity building, technical assistance to help communities match their most pressing needs with the biggest opportunities…to design and to implement Community Benefits Plans," Granholm says, "in short, really to have a say in how the historic clean energy investments in their backyards are going to benefit their people."

Granholm also noted on the progress of the clean energy sector, including how clean energy investment is three times what it was in 2018 and that in 2024, wind and solar energy in the U.S. is expected to outpace coal generation for the first time.

All this progress, Granholm explains, in light of global events and global energy supply disruption

"But our work together really has to extend beyond crisis management," she says. "Because the sooner that we acknowledge this transition for what it is—an undeniable, inevitable, and necessary realignment of the world’s energy system—the sooner we can capitalize on this incredible opportunity."

Harris County was awarded $1.64 million, the largest total among the local governments. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-area counties land DOE funding for energy infrastructure projects

seeing green

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded more than $2 million to Harris and Montgomery counties for projects that improve energy efficiency and infrastructure in the region.

The funds come from the DOE's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program. Harris and Montgomery counties are among 28 state, local, and Tribal governments to have been awarded a total of $30 million through the initiative, according to a statement.

The grants were awarded to eight states, four cities, four counties and 12 smaller, rural communities.

“Our local governments are at the forefront of our clean energy revolution and are critical touchpoints with our nation’s communities creating clean, healthy and affordable communities,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm says in a statement. “With historic funding thanks to President Biden’s clean energy laws, more Americans will receive upgrades to their homes through residential energy efficiency rebates, expanded weatherization efforts, and electrification programs that will save them energy and increase their comfort.

"This funding will also invest in improving public spaces, giving more Americans across the country access to energy efficient technologies and clean energy infrastructure in their communities such as heat pumps, LED lights, solar energy, and EV charging stations,” she continues.

Harris County was awarded $1.64 million, the largest total among the local governments. It will be put toward for several projects:

  • Conducting community engagement with disadvantaged communities for climate justice planning
  • Performing site assessments for solar and storage on county properties in disadvantaged communities
  • Conducting recycling pilots at county facilities
  • Enhancing walking and bicycling to school as part of the Safe Routes to School plan
  • Deploying an off-grid, solar EV station on county property in a disadvantaged community in the greater-Houston area

Montgomery County was awarded $457,580 to replace 150 metal halide lights at a community sports field with LED lights and add wireless controls.

According to the DOE, more than $430 million in formula grant funding is available through the EECBG Program and another 2,700 governments and tribes are eligible for funds. Grants are slated to be awarded on a rolling basis as the department receives applications. The application deadline for eligible local governments and tribes has been extended to April 30, 2024.

Other states, local governments and tribes to recieve funding in this round include:

States

  • Alabama ($2,207,540)
  • Alaska ($1,627,450)
  • Idaho ($1,742,300)
  • Louisiana ($2,149,350)
  • Maine ($1,668,790)
  • Ohio ($3,130,030)
  • Rhode Island ($1,675,110)
  • Washington ($2,273,890)

Local governments

  • Bend, Oregon ($152,740)
  • Boston, Massachusetts ($659,990)
  • Los Angeles County, California ($1,344,700)
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota ($424,330)
  • Nashville, Tennessee ($644,440)
  • Wagoner County, Oklahoma ($76,900)

EECBG Program Competitive Awards

  • Albany, California ($200,000)
  • Cascade, Idaho ($200,000)
  • Decatur, Georgia ($400,000)
  • Decorah, Iowa ($1,100,000)
  • Durham County, North Carolina ($1,500,000)
  • Eagle County, Colorado ($1,400,000)
  • Exeter, New Hampshire ($200,000)
  • Kittery, Maine ($800,000)
  • Littleton, Massachusetts ($300,000)
  • MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians in Alabama ($1,100,000)
  • Nenana, Alaska ($900,000)
  • Peterborough, New Hampshire ($700,000) and Harrisville, NH

The funds add to the list for grants the federal government has doled out to Houston-area projects related to the energy transition in recent months.

Earlier in October, Granholm announced that the HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub would receive funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The project, which connects more than 1,000 miles of hydrogen pipelines, 48 hydrogen production facilities and dozens of hydrogen end-use applications across Texas and Southwest Louisiana will receive up to $1.2 billion.

The DOE also granted more than $10 million in funding to four carbon capture projects with ties to Houston earlier this summer.

And in September, Rice University announced that it would host the Carbon Management Community Summit this fall, sponsored by the DOE, and in partnership with the city of Houston and climate change-focused multimedia company Climate Now. The event takes place next month.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”