HCC's Transportation Center of Excellence Electric Vehicle training program received a donation of $200,000 from BP America. Photo courtesy of HCC

BP America agreed to donate a large sum to Houston Community College in order to support the future of the city's electric vehicle workforce.

During the Board of Trustees meeting, HCC's Transportation Center of Excellence Electric Vehicle training program received a donation of $200,000 from BP America. The program plans to use the funds for a safety and fundamentals course for more than 300 City of Houston’s and Harris County fleet department employees, which equips technicians to repair and maintain EVs.

“We are delighted to be at the forefront of this important education to equip Houstonians with the knowledge and skills to maintain electric vehicles,” Chancellor Margaret Ford Fisher says in a news release. “This generous donation is a win for the partners involved and for helping to ensure a sustainable future.”

The Transportation Center of Excellence's EV training program has already trained more than 100 fleet mechanics and automotive technicians. It began on April 1 at the HCC North Forest Campus Automotive Training Center. With state-of-the-art equipment for hands-on training and classroom instruction,instructors show technicians potential risks associated with the high-voltage elements of EVs.

"We are proud to support the HCC Transportation Center of Excellence - Electric Vehicle training program," Mark Crawford, senior vice president at BP America adds in the release. "This partnership aligns with BP's commitment to sustainable livelihoods and advancing the energy transition."

How can Houston's energy transition be built with the city's communities in mind? Through trust, public education, and intention, according to a panel of experts. Photo via Getty Images

Why it would be 'potentially catastrophic' not to include communities in the energy transition

overheard

As the energy sector transitions toward a more sustainable future, a Houston organization is driving forward the idea to do so with a community-based approach, as some experts discussed at a recent breakfast panel.

The Center for Houston's Future hosted a breakfast discussion on August 10, entitled "Building a Community-Based Approach to the Energy Transition," sponsored by BP Energy. The conversation covered various ways corporations, organizations, and individuals could work together to build this approach, including through education, upskilling, collaborations, and more.

Photo by Laura Goldberg/Center for Houston's Future on LinkedIn

The event kicked off with a keynote address from Brad Townsend, vice president of policy and outreach at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, who set the scene for the discussion.

“The energy transition offers an opportunity to build a thriving, just, and resilient net-zero economy that can benefit companies and communities alike" he says to the crowd. "It’s the chance to raise jobs standards and safely through local and federal policies, employ a practice change, cross-sector collaboration, and worker training.

“It's also an opportunity to diversify the workforce to better reflect local communities, including in Houston," he continues. "If we approach this engagement however as a box checking exercise or unwilling to really provide communities an opportunity to help shape projects, we’re destined to fail. Being genuinely open to feedback from communities and actively incorporating them into the decision-making process is foundational to generating the community buy-in that will be crucial to a successful energy transition.”

Here were some of the key takeaways from the event.

"When we talk about Houston we need to be cognizant that it is a huge geographical area, and you cannot speak to Houston as a monolith. You can't even speak to individual communities as single entities."

— Anne Bartlett, vice president of industry and community resources at Brazosport College.

"Our responsibility is to recognize and really understand our communities not just from labor market data perspective, but also by having conversations with people who know what’s happening on the ground," she continues. "Our charge is to recognize that yes, this is a regional opportunity but it really does need to be situationalized in our specific communities and recognize the strengths and the opportunities that are present in all of those."

"One of the opportunities and challenges that's part of this massive energy transition, which I think will not only bring about investments of billions of dollars but potentially trillions of dollars, is to utilize these significant investments as an opportunity to not only transform how we make, use, and transport energy, but also uplift these communities that are adjacent to the facilities where hydrogen and other resources will be will be produced."

— John Hall, president and CEO of Houston Advanced Research Center.

"We (need to) use this entire transformational effort to open the doors of opportunity for every community," he adds.

“While it is the right thing to do to bring in the full breath of diversity that we have, it's (also) absolutely necessary.”

— Mark Crawford, senior vice president at BP Energy.

"We're in in Houston. We are the most diverse city in the United States, and the United States is becoming more and more diverse," he explains.

"It is important to bring holistic solutions to communities. ... We can't do everything, but there are organizations working on the ground that are doing really great work. It's about companies going in and partnering with stakeholders on the ground who understand the communities so that we are bringing these wrap-around services."

Crawford continues, noting that it's on companies like BP to tap into and support local entities.

“There's a fundamental shift that needs to happen in the way that we're talking about these jobs to really encourage young people to take advantage of resources that are made available, because we can integrate that into the educational curriculum, but unless students and young people are willing to move in that direction it's not going to make a difference.”

— Townsend says on the panel, addressing the sentiment that young people are told job security comes only with a college degree. The panelists agree this isn't the case anymore, yet that message is still being conveyed.

“I think it's really important to pull back and recognize the opportunity that's in the K-12 space — not only with the children and making sure that they're aware that these careers even exist, but perhaps just as importantly with their parents.” 

Bartlett says, adding that these kids will be the ones in thes jobs in 10 or so years, so that message needs to start being conveyed now.

“All of these things cost money. There are dollars that are out there right now that we are not leveraging — there are dollars that are available through the Texas Workforce Commission, through Chambers of Commerce. So, we're not talking about having to reinvent the wheel and having to go to our industry partners with palms up, we're talking about leveraging the resources that are already out there in a wiser way.”

Bartlett says about the feasibility of workforce development programs.

“It would be unfortunate — (and) it would be potentially catastrophic — if we see the trillions and trillions of dollars invested over the next 20 years, and we have left behind 25 percent or more of citizens.”

Hall says, emphasizing how important working with communities — and hearing their concerns — is to this process.

He later adds that he's worked with community leaders, and he knows they are optimistic — as is he — about this process. “These are not peculiar human beings. They have the same hopes and dreams that we have, and if we will take the step to just reach out and connect and communicate with sincerity, then those barriers are easier to overcome.”

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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.”