Greentown Labs has a new Terawatt Partner. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

Greentown Labs, dual located in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, has named its latest top-level partner.

TotalEnergies has joined the incubator at the the highest level of partnership — the Terawatt level — Greentown Labs announced on January 23. Through the partnership, TotalEnergies will have access to Greentown's membership of clean energy startups and event programming.

Lotfi Hedhli, president at TotalEnergies Research & Technology U.S., will participate on Greentown’s Industry Leadership Council, providing strategic guidance to the incubator.

“We are excited to join Greentown Labs and its ecosystem to catalyze the development of potential decarbonization technologies through collaboration with promising startups,” Hedhli says in a news release. “This partnership with Greentown Labs will focus in particular on the deployment and use of renewables and low-carbon solutions, which are critical to our ambition to achieve carbon neutrality.”

TotalEnergies is among the world's largest utility-scale solar developers with activity in over 30 states in the country, including a Houston-area solar farm that went online in October. Additionally, TotalEnergies announced in November that it signed an agreement with TexGen to acquire $635 million three gas-fired power plants with a total capacity of 1.5 GW in Texas.

“At Greentown Labs, we continue to recognize and appreciate the role energy leaders play in the clean energy transition and we’re proud to have TotalEnergies join us as a Terawatt Partner,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in the news release. “We applaud the meaningful steps TotalEnergies is taking to expand its renewable energy portfolio and generation, and we’re eager to have their team of experts engaging directly with our climatetech entrepreneurs.”

Greentown last named a Terawatt Partner — GE Vernova — last fall.

TotalEnergies' new solar farm outside of Houston is the size of 1,800 football fields. Photo via totalenergies.com

Global energy company opens solar farm outside of Houston

up & running

A global energy corporation has a new solar farm online and operating just outside of Houston.

TotalEnergies (NYSE: TTE) has started commercial operations of its new solar farm, Myrtle Solar, just south of Houston. The farm has a capacity of 380 megawatts peak of solar production and 225 MWh of co-located batteries. Spread across the space — which is about the size of 1,800 football fields — are 705,000 solar panels producing enough electricity to power 70,000 homes.

Seventy percent of the power generated will be sourced for TotalEnergies' industrial plants in the U.S. Gulf Coast region, and the remaining 30 percent will be used by Kilroy Realty, a publicly traded real estate company, per a 15-year corporate power purchase agreement.

“We are very proud to start up Myrtle, TotalEnergies’ largest-to-date operated utility-scale solar farm with storage in the United States. This startup is another milestone in achieving our goal to build an integrated and profitable position in Texas, where ERCOT is the main electrical grid operator," Vincent Stoquart, senior vice president of renewables at TotalEnergies, says in the release. "Besides, the project will enable the Company to cover the power needs of some of its biggest U.S. industrial sites with electricity from a renewable source."

The farm is part of the company’s Go Green Project that is hoping to enable the company to cover its power needs by 2025, as well as curtail the Scope 1+2 emissions of its industrial sites in the Gulf Coast area, including Port Arthur and La Porte in Texas and Carville, Louisiana.

“Given the advantages that IRA tax exemptions are generating, we will continue to actively develop our 25 GW portfolio of projects in operation or development in the United States, to contribute to the Company’s global power generation target of more than 100 TWh by 2030,” Stoquart continues.

Myrtle Solar is also equipped with 114 high-tech Energy Storage Systems with a total capacity of 225 MWh. The technology was provided by TotalEnergies' affiliate Saft.

The world can't keep on with what it's doing and expect to reach its goals when it comes to climate change. Radical innovations are needed at this point, writes Scott Nyquist. Photo via Getty Images

Only radical innovation can get the world to its climate goals, says this Houston expert

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Almost 3 years ago, McKinsey published a report arguing that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels was “technically achievable,” but that the “math is daunting.” Indeed, when the 1.5°C figure was agreed to at the 2015 Paris climate conference, the assumption was that emissions would peak before 2025, and then fall 43 percent by 2030.

Given that 2022 saw the highest emissions ever—36.8 gigatons—the math is now more daunting still: cuts would need to be greater, and faster, than envisioned in Paris. Perhaps that is why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted March 20 (with “high confidence”) that it was “likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century.”

I agree with that gloomy assessment. Given the rate of progress so far, 1.5°C looks all but impossible. That puts me in the company of people like Bill Gates; the Economist; the Australian Academy of Science, and apparently many IPCC scientists. McKinsey has estimated that even if all countries deliver on their net zero commitments, temperatures will likely be 1.7°C higher in 2100.

In October, the UN Environment Program argued that there was “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place” and called for “an urgent system-wide transformation” to change the trajectory. Among the changes it considers necessary: carbon taxes, land use reform, dietary changes in which individuals “consume food for environmental sustainability and carbon reduction,” investment of $4 trillion to $6 trillion a year; applying current technology to all new buildings; no new fossil fuel infrastructure. And so on.

Let’s assume that the UNEP is right. What are the chances of all this happening in the next few years? Or, indeed, any of it? President Obama’s former science adviser, Daniel Schrag, put it this way: “ Who believes that we can halve global emissions by 2030?... It’s so far from reality that it’s kind of absurd.”

Having a goal is useful, concentrating minds and organizing effort. And I think that has been the case with 1.5°C, or recent commitments to get to net zero. Targets create a sense of urgency that has led to real progress on decarbonization.

The 2020 McKinsey report set out how to get on the 1.5°C pathway, and was careful to note that this was not a description of probability or reality but “a picture of a world that could be.” Three years later, that “world that could be” looks even more remote.

Consider the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter. In 2021, 79 percent of primary energy demand (see chart) was met by fossil fuels, about the same as a decade before. Globally, the figures are similar, with renewables accounting for just 12.5 percent of consumption and low-emissions nuclear another 4 percent. Those numbers would have to basically reverse in the next decade or so to get on track. I don’t see how that can happen.

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Credit: Energy Information Administration

But even if 1.5°C is improbable in the short term, that doesn’t mean that missing the target won’t have consequences. And it certainly doesn’t mean giving up on addressing climate change. And in fact, there are some positive trends. Many companies are developing comprehensive plans for achieving net-zero emissions and are making those plans part of their long-term strategy. Moreover, while global emissions grew 0.9 percent in 2022, that was much less than GDP growth (3.2 percent). It’s worth noting, too, that much of the increase came from switching from gas to coal in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine; that is the kind of supply shock that can be reversed. The point is that growth and emissions no longer move in lockstep; rather the opposite. That is critical because poorer countries are never going to take serious climate action if they believe it threatens their future prosperity.

Another implication is that limiting emissions means addressing the use of fossil fuels. As noted, even with the substantial rise in the use of renewables, coal, gas, and oil are still the core of the global energy system. They cannot be wished away. Perhaps it is time to think differently—that is, making fossil fuels more emissions efficient, by using carbon capture or other technologies; cutting methane emissions; and electrifying oil and gas operations. This is not popular among many climate advocates, who would prefer to see fossil fuels “stay in the ground.” That just isn’t happening. The much likelier scenario is that they are gradually displaced. McKinsey projects peak oil demand later this decade, for example, and for gas, maybe sometime in the late 2030s. Even after the peak, though, oil and gas will still be important for decades.

Second, in the longer term, it may be possible to get back onto 1.5°C if, in addition to reducing emissions, we actually remove them from the atmosphere, in the form of “negative emissions,” such as direct air capture and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage in power and heavy industry. The IPCC itself assumed negative emissions would play a major role in reaching the 1.5°C target; in fact, because of cost and deployment problems, it’s been tiny.

Finally, as I have argued before, it’s hard to see how we limit warming even to 2°C without more nuclear power, which can provide low-emissions energy 24/7, and is the largest single source of such power right now.

None of these things is particularly popular; none get the publicity of things like a cool new electric truck or an offshore wind farm (of which two are operating now in the United States, generating enough power for about 20,000 homes; another 40 are in development). And we cannot assume fast development of offshore wind. NIMBY concerns have already derailed some high-profile projects, and are also emerging in regard to land-based wind farms.

Carbon capture, negative emissions, and nuclear will have to face NIMBY, too. But they all have the potential to move the needle on emissions. Think of the potential if fast-growing India and China, for example, were to develop an assembly line of small nuclear reactors. Of course, the economics have to make sense—something that is true for all climate-change technologies.

And as the UN points out, there needs to be progress on other issues, such as food, buildings, and finance. I don’t think we can assume that such progress will happen on a massive scale in the next few years; the actual record since Paris demonstrates the opposite. That is troubling: the IPCC notes that the risks of abrupt and damaging impacts, such as flooding and crop yields, rise “with every increment of global warming.” But it is the reality.

There is one way to get us to 1.5°C, although not in the Paris timeframe: a radical acceleration of innovation. The approaches being scaled now, such as wind, solar, and batteries, are the same ideas that were being discussed 30 years ago. We are benefiting from long-term, incremental improvements, not disruptive innovation. To move the ball down the field quickly, though, we need to complete a Hail Mary pass.

It’s a long shot. But we’re entering an era of accelerated innovation, driven by advanced computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning that could narrow the odds. For example, could carbon nanotubes displace demand for high-emissions steel? Might it be possible to store carbon deep in the ocean? Could geo-engineering bend the curve?

I believe that, on the whole, the world is serious about climate change. I am certain that the energy transition is happening. But I don’t think we are anywhere near to being on track to hit the 1.5°C target. And I don’t see how doing more of the same will get us there.

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Scott Nyquist is a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company and vice chairman, Houston Energy Transition Initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership. The views expressed herein are Nyquist's own and not those of McKinsey & Company or of the Greater Houston Partnership. This article originally ran on LinkedIn.

Learn more about the specific missions the Houston Energy Transition Initiative is focused on — from carbon management to finding funding. Photo via htxenergytransition.com

Houston: Where energy leaders create a low-carbon future

the view from heti

Houston is the energy capital of the world, and it faces a dual challenge: fulfilling growing global energy demand while actively reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

This is why energy leaders have come together at the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, within the Greater Houston Partnership, to strengthen the region’s position for an energy-abundant, low-carbon future. HETI’s impact work is conducted through sector-specific working groups that leverage Houston’s competitive advantage. These working groups include: Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS), Clean Hydrogen, Capital Formation, Power Management, and Industry Decarbonization.

Texas Gulf Coast as a hub for carbon management

The International Energy Agency (IEA) states that CCUS is a requirement to any realistic pathway to a low-carbon, even net-zero future. This is especially true in the Houston area, which is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrated sources of carbon dioxide. Houston has the geology, knowledge, and infrastructure to support CCUS at scale. The CCUS Working Group at HETI supports key policy enablers of scaling CCUS, including supporting the state to earn permitting authority (primacy) over carbon capture (Class VI) wells. The working group is also analyzing the cumulative impacts of carbon capture on the region’s existing infrastructure and identifying key infrastructure needs for CCUS to reach scale.

Gulf Coast preparing for clean hydrogen liftoff

The Clean Hydrogen working group has created an ecosystem for Houston to lead the clean hydrogen market. The Texas Gulf Coast region is currently home to the world’s largest hydrogen system. By assessing the impact of hydrogen on the economy and the environment, this working group is positioning Houston to be a leading clean hydrogen hub.

Houston as a leader in Industry decarbonization

Houston needs technologies including but not limited to clean hydrogen and CCUS for decarbonization. The HETI Decarbonization Working Group partners with the Mission Possible Partnership and Rocky Mountain Institute to provide a measurable baseline of emissions and identify recommendations for decarbonization pathways in the Houston region.

An energy-abundant, low-carbon future will impact our region’s power management

It is expected that there will be changes in supply and demand of electricity associated with proposed energy transition and decarbonization projects in the Houston area. HETI has partnered with Mission Possible Partnership and Rocky Mountain Institute to assess the impact of energy transition and decarbonization on the growth and resilience of Houston’s regional power grid and the transmission and distribution of energy.

Making Houston a hub for energy transition finance

Financing energy projects is extremely capital intensive. Houston currently serves as a hub for implementing new technologies, and it has the potential to become a major center for financing innovative energy solutions. This includes everything from more efficient, lower-carbon production of existing resources to technological breakthroughs in energy efficiency, renewables, energy storage, and nature-based solutions. For technological breakthroughs, Houston needs a consistent flow of capital to the region, including sources and financing models from venture capital to growth capital, to debt markets and government grants. HETI’s Capital Formation Working Group has mapped inflows and outflows of capital for the energy transition in Houston and found that we need to grow Houston’s capital inflows ten times by 2040 to $150 billion per year to lead the transition. The Working Group regularly convenes for learning sessions on capital markets.

Over the last year, HETI’s working groups have moved from strategy to impact. To learn more about the outcomes of these working groups, check out these resources.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

There's no silver bullet for clean energy. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach, writes Scott Nyquist. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: When it comes to the future of energy and climate, think 'all of the above'

guest column

People in the energy industry don’t have the Oscars. For us, the big event of the year is CERAWeek — a conference stuffed with CEOs, top policymakers, and environmental and energy wonks held annually in March.

CERAWeek 2022, with the theme“Pace of Change: Energy, Climate, and Innovation," meant the return of in-person activations, panels, and networking. Walking and talking between sessions and around the coffee table, it occurred to me that the unofficial theme of the event was “Maybe now we can find middle ground on energy.” This idea came up time and time again, from all kinds of people.

As with too many other issues, the discussion of the future of US energy has become polarized. On one end of the spectrum are those who want everything renewable and/or electrified by ….. last week, whatever the cost. Their mantra for fossil fuels: “Keep them in the ground.”

On the other end, are those who dismiss climate change, saying we can always adapt and that it doesn’t much matter, anyway. Just keep digging and drilling and mining as we have always done. And in the middle are the great majority of Americans who are not passionate either way, but want to be responsible consumers, and also to be able to visit grandma without breaking the bank.

I believe that the transition toward an energy system that is cleaner and less reliant on fossil fuels is realand will ultimately bring substantial benefits. At the same time, I believe that energy security and economics also matter. At a time when inflation was already running high, paying an average of $4.25 a gallon at the pump is piling pain on tens of millions of US households. Ultimately, over decades, the use of electric vehicles will reduce the need for oil and that lower-emissions sources, including renewables, will provide a larger share of the power supply, which today depends largely on gas and coal. But that moment is not now, or next week. Indeed, fossil fuels continue to account for almost 80 percent of US primary energy consumption, and a similar figure globally.

Here is one way to think about the interplay between the energy transition and energy security: “We need an energy strategy for the future—an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.” No, that isn’t some apologist for Big Oil; it was President Obama. In 2014, the Obama White House also noted the role of US domestic oil and gas production in enhancing economic resilience and reducing vulnerability to oil shocks. In short, the White House argued, US oil and gas production can bring real benefits for the country. I think that is still true.

Does that mean throwing in the towel on the energy transition and climate change? Absolutely not. There are a variety of ways to pursue the goal of reducing emissions and eventually getting to net-zero emissions. I’ve touched on many of them in previous posts—including reducing methane emissions,pricing carbon, hydrogen, renewables, electric vehicles, urban planning, carbon capture, and negative emissions technologies. In other words, an “all of the above strategy” makes sense in this regard, too.

I don’t know how, or if, a middle ground can be captured. But from what I heard at CERAWeek last year, from people of otherwise widely divergent views, there just may be momentum to get there. A middle-ground consensus rests on three premises. First, we need fossil fuels for energy security and reliability now and until the time when technologies are in place to secure the energy transition. Second, at the same time, we need to be investing in the energy transition because climate change is real and matters. And third, for sustained and systematic progress, government and industry need to work together.

Or, in a phrase, “all of the above.”

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Scott Nyquist is a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company and vice chairman, Houston Energy Transition Initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership. The views expressed herein are Nyquist's own and not those of McKinsey & Company or of the Greater Houston Partnership. This article originally ran on LinkedIn.

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Houston companies land DOE vouchers for clean tech

money moves

Ten Houston-area companies will receive vouchers from the Department of Energy's latest round of funding to support the adoption of clean energy tech.

The companies are among 111 organizations to receive up to $250,000 in vouchers from the DOE's Office of Technology Transitions, totaling $9.8 million in funding, according to a release from the department.

The voucher program is in collaboration with the Offices of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED), Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). It is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“It takes a breadth of tools and expertise to bring an innovative technology from research and development to deployment,” Vanessa Z. Chan, DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of the Office of Technology Transitions, says in a statement. “The Voucher Program will pair 111 clean energy solutions with the support they need from expert voucher providers to help usher new technologies to market.”

In addition to the funding, the program seeks to help small businesses and non-traditional organizations gain access to testing facilities and third-party expertise.

The vouchers come in five different opportunities that focus on different areas of business growth and support:

  • Voucher Opportunity 1 (VO1) - Pre-Demonstration Commercialization Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 2 (VO2) - Performance Validation, Modeling, and Certification Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 3 (VO3) - Clean Energy Demonstration Project Siting/Permitting Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 4 (VO4) - Commercialization Support (for companies with a functional technology prototype)
  • Voucher Opportunity 5 (VO5) - Commercialization Support (for developers, including for-profit firms, that are working to commercialize a prototype that fits a specific technology vertical of interest for DOE)

The 10 Houston-area companies to receive funding, their voucher type and projects include:

  • Terradote Inc. with Big Blue Technologies Inc. (VO2): Full ISO-Compliant Life Cycle Assessment for Clean Energy Technologies
  • Solugen Inc. and Encina with ACTion Battery Technologies L.L.C. and Frontline Waste Holding LLC (Vo2): Barracuda Virtual Reactor Simulation, Validation and Testing
  • Flow Safe with Concept Group LLC and Precision Fluid Control (VO2): Durability Testing of Hydrogen Components, Materials, and Storage Systems
  • Percheron Power LLC (VO4): Fundraising Support
  • Capwell Services Inc. with Banyu Carbon Inc. (VO5): Field Testing Support for Validation of Novel Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Syzygy Plasmonics with Ample Carbon PBC, Terraform Industries, Lydian Labs Inc. and Vycarb Inc. (VO5): Rapid Life Cycle Assessment for Carbon Management or Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Solidec Inc. with GreenFire Energy (VO5): LCA Calculator Tool for Carbon Management or Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Encino Environmental Services LLC with Wood Cache, Completion Corp and Carbon Lockdown (VO5): Realtime Above/Underground Gas Monitoring Reporting and Verification, Including Cloud Connectivity for Remote Sites
  • Mati Carbon PBC with Ebb Carbon Inc. (VO5): Community Benefits Assessment and Environmental Justice

Other Texas-based companies to receive funding included Molecular Rebar Design LLC and Talus Renewables from Austin, Deep Anchor Solutions from College Station, and ACTion Battery Technologies LLC from Wichita Falls.

Last October, the DOE also awarded the Houston area more than $2 million for projects that improve energy efficiency and infrastructure in the region.

In December, its Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations also selected a Houston power company for a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage project cost-sharing agreement.

New global report names top cleantech startups to keep an eye on

seeing green

Nine Greentown Labs members were recognized on a global list honoring cleantech companies.

Houston-based Fervo Energy was named to Cleantech Group’s Global Cleantech 100 report. Cleantech Group is a research-driven company that aids the public sector, private sector, investors, and also identifies, assesses, and engages with the innovative solutions around climate challenges.

Fervo, a geothermal energy company that specializes in a renewable energy technology that uses hot water to produce electricity, debuted in 2022 on the list, and was honored in the “Energy & Power” category for the second straight year.

The other Greentown Labs, which is dual located in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, companies recognized on the list include:

  • Amogy, a New York-based novel carbon-free energy system using ammonia as a renewable fuel
  • Carbon Upcycling Technologies, a Canadian waste and carbon utilization company
  • Dandelion Energy, New York-based company offering ground source heat pumps for most homes
  • Energy Dome, a Milan-based company addressing the problem of long-duration energy storage
  • e-Zinc, a Canadian company with a breakthrough electrochemical technology for energy storage
  • Nth Cycle, a Massachusetts company with sustainable metal refining
  • Raptor Maps, a Massachusetts company with a software platform for solar assets' performance data management
  • Sublime Systems, a Massachusetts companydeveloping a breakthrough process for low-carbon cement
  • WeaveGrid, a California company working with utilities, automakers, EVSEs, and EV owners to enable and accelerate the electrification of transportation

The number of nominations from the public, a panel, i3, awards and Cleantech Group totaled 25,435 from over 65 countries, which is a 61% increase from the 2023 nomination process. Winners were chosen from a short list of 330 companies by a panel of over 80 industry experts.

While not on the list, Beaumont-based Fortress Energy was mentioned for its electrolyzer supply agreement with Cleantech Group 100 winner Electric Hydrogen.

The Cleantech Group 100 was started 15 years ago.

“In 15 more years, we will be at 2039—by which time, a mere decade out from the ‘net-zero’ target of 2050,” Cleantech Group CEO Richard Youngman says in the report. “I would expect the composition of our annual list to have markedly changed again, and the leading upcoming private companies of that time to reflect such.”