Buckle up for the 2024 Houston Auto Show this week, which will prominently feature EV tech. Photo via Houston Auto Show/Facebook

Houston Auto Show, which is a long running event for auto enthusiasts, will feature its largest electronic vehicle representation to date this year.

The event will feature an EV Pavillion and Evolve Houston’s electronic showroom at the January 24 to 28 event at NRG Center. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about what it means to go the EV route from environmental impact, performance, cost effectiveness, and other factors.

This year, vehicles like Nissan's Ariya Platinum+ AWD, Chevrolet’s Bolt EV, Ford’s F-150 Lightning and others will be on display at the EV Pavillion. CenterPoint Energy, Reliant, and the University of Houston were part of Evolve's 2023 showroom.

A recent study from SmartAsset ranked states with the most electric vehicle chargers by looking at the closest equivalent to a trip to the gas station, in terms of “refueling” – per capita. Texas is behind other similarly-sized states.

“Houston maintains some of the lowest population density and longest commute distances of major U.S. cities, and we have an immense amount of business and goods that flow through Houston,” Casey Brown, executive director and president of EVOLVE, previously told EnergyCapital. “We see a landscape that can uniquely achieve larger financial and environmental benefits of EV technologies. One way that we share these benefits is being the Presenting Sponsor of the Houston Auto Show.”

Houston Automobile Dealers Association Executive Vice President and event organizer RoShelle Salinas has noted there has been an uptick in EV demand for these events since the first one debuted at the 2020 show.

Evolve Houston, which was founded in 2018 through Houston’s Climate Action Plan, is one of the organizations leading the way in the EV space, as the company still aims for its goal to have half of the vehicles in the city be electric by 2030. Evolve assists and funds those looking to make the transition to electric with the Grant Tracker, which aims to make it easier to find funding opportunities, and assist with current grants available to organizations and individuals that are committed to a goal of zero emissions. The tracker serves as a tool to assist with purchasing an EV and charging equipment.

The Biden administration recently announced it is awarding $623 million in grants to help build an electric vehicle charging network across the nation. Grants will fund 47 EV charging stations and related projects in 22 states and Puerto Rico, including 7,500 EV charging ports according to officials. Texas is expected to see a chunk of that funding. Last year, the city of Houston approved $281,000 funding for the expansion of free electric vehicle rideshare services in communities that are considered underserved by utilizing services like RYDE and Evolve Houston.

“Evolve Houston has been a sponsor for 2 years and their display has been a great addition to the show because it is not only educational, but there is also a chance for people to test drive vehicles,” Salinas says.

The improvements are expected to reduce emissions by 241,000 metric tons a year and save over $54 million by 2043. Photo courtesy of NRG

NRG Park announces historic complex-wide sustainability project

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A Houston organization has announced a major energy efficiency and sustainability project that, in 20 years, will end up paying for itself with the savings alone.

The project is a collaboration between Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI), Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation (HCSCC), NRG Park, and Harris County. The 20-year savings of the improvements are estimated to generate more than $54 million.

"We remain committed to maintaining NRG Park's distinct position as a part of the fabric of our community and a landmark for visitors globally," Ryan Walsh, CEO and executive director of HCSCC and NRG Park, says in a news release. "These enhancements allow us to maintain our reputation for excellence and continue to deliver the best fan experiences, while exploring innovative and financially responsible approaches to sustainability."

The project, according to the news release, is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 241,000 metric tons a year. The plan includes: upgrades to HVAC equipment, building automation systems, water conservation, life safety systems and lighting improvements, and the high-efficiency chiller system.

The teams from Johnson Controls and NRG celebrated the partnership earlier this summer. Photo courtesy of Johnson Controls

Additionally, the park will integrate a system from Johnson Controls — OpenBlue Central Utility Plant — and the company will continue to measure and track results through an ongoing service agreement.

"Our partnership with Harris County and HCSCC's team to guide the enhancement initiative at NRG Park is paving the way for more sustainable practices across the sports and entertainment sector," Julie Brandt, president of Building Solutions North America at Johnson Controls, says in a statement. "We look forward to seeing how this project will inspire other industry leaders and drive smart savings and significant emissions reduction, not only in Harris County but on a national scale."

NRG Park, comprised of NRG Center, NRG Stadium and NRG Arena, is home to the annual 20-day Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the NFL Houston Texans. The 350-acre complex will also host the College Football Playoff Championship, the FIFA World Cup, and more than 500 other events this year.

"NRG Park is a premier destination that welcomes more than 5.5 million people annually," says Rodney Ellis, Harris County Commissioner for Precinct 1, in the release. "These enhancements will create a more enjoyable and resilient environment for people traveling from near and far to attend the multitude of events hosted there."

It's not the first time NRG has invested in energy efficiency. In 2014, NRG Stadium became the first professional football stadium in the country with LED lights, Elizabeth Killinger, executive vice president of NRG Retail, said at the time. NRG also became the first professional sports stadium in Texas to install solar panels. At the time, the organization also announced electric vehicle charging stations.

Earlier this year, the Houston Texans announced a sustainability project of their own. In partnership with 1PointFive, the Texans’ Preferred Carbon Removal Partner, the team launched the Touchdown for Trees program the Touchdown for Trees program to recapture carbon emissions. For every touchdown scored by the Texans in the 2022, 2023, and 2024 seasons, the team pledges to plant 1.5 trees in the greater Houston area.

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Chevron, TotalEnergies back energy storage startup's $15.8M series A

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A California startup that's revolutionizing polymer cathode battery technology has announced its series A round of funding with support from Houston-based energy transition leaders.

LiNova Energy Inc. closed a $15.8 million series A round led by Catalus Capital. Saft, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies, which has its US HQ in Houston, and Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, also participated in the round with a coalition of other investors.

LiNova will use the funds with its polymer cathode battery to advance the energy storage landscape, according to the company. The company uses a high-energy polymer battery technology that is designed to allow material replacement of the traditional cathode that is made up of cobalt, nickel, and other materials.

The joint development agreement with Saft will have them collaborate to develop the battery technology for commercialization in Saft's key markets.

“We are proud to collaborate with LiNova in scaling up its technology, leveraging the extensive experience of Saft's research teams, our newest prototype lines, and our industrial expertise in battery cell production," Cedric Duclos, CEO of Saft, says in a news release.

CTV recently announced its $500 million Future Energy Fund III, which aims to lead on emerging mobility, energy decentralization, industrial decarbonization, and the growing circular economy. Chevron has promised to spend $10 billion on lower carbon energy investments and projects by 2028.

Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

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A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

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Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”