Houston ranks as the 15th most polluted city in the U.S. No other Texas city appears in the ranking. Photo via Getty Images

Houston just made a list that no one wants it to be on.

Data compiled by the National Public Utilities Council ranks Houston as the 15th most polluted city in the U.S. No other Texas city appears in the ranking. Three California cities — Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno — took the top three spots.

The ranking considers a city’s average volume of fine particulate matter in the air per year. Fine particulate matter (formally known as PM2.5) includes soot, soil dust, and sulphates.

The council based its ranking on the average annual concentration of PM2.5 as measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air, known as µg/m3. The ranking lists Houston’s average annual µg/m3 as 11.4. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a top µg/m3 of 5, while the American Lung Association sets 9 µg/m as an average annual guideline.

A report released in 2024 by Smart Survey found that the Houston area had just 38 days of good air quality the previous year.

“Most of Houston’s air pollution comes from industrial sources and diesel engines, although sources as diverse as school buses and meat cooking also contribute to … the problem,” the nonprofit Air Alliance Houston says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PM2.5 poses “the greatest risk to health” of any particulate matter. Among other health issues, fine particulate matter contributes to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic pulmonary disease.

Among the sources of PM2.5 are wildfires, wood-burning stoves, and coal-fired plants, according to the American Lung Association.

The WHO says air pollution causes 7 million deaths annually and may cost the global economy $18 trillion to 25 trillion by 2060. With 70 percent of the population expected to live in urban centers by mid-century, cities are at the forefront of efforts to reduce pollution, according to National Public Utilities Council.

ERCOT now estimates an extra 40,000 megawatts of growth in demand for electricity by 2030 compared with last year’s outlook. Photo via Getty Images

Eyeing demand growth, ERCOT calls for energy investments across Texas

report

With the Electric Reliability Council of Texas forecasting a big spike in demand for electricity over the next five to seven years, the operator of Texas’ massive power grid is embracing changes that it says will yield a “tremendous opportunity” for energy investments across the state.

The council, known as ERCOT, now estimates an extra 40,000 megawatts of growth in demand for electricity by 2030 compared with last year’s outlook. According to ERCOT data, 40,000 megawatts of electricity would power roughly 8 million Texas homes during peak demand.

ERCOT has been under intense scrutiny in the wake of recent summertime and wintertime debacles involving power emergencies or outages. The organization manages 90 percent of Texas’ power supply.

“As a result of Texas’ continued strong economic growth, new load is being added to the ERCOT system faster and in greater amounts than ever before,” Pablo Vegas, president and CEO of ERCOT, says in a news release. “As we develop and implement the tools provided by the prior two [legislative sessions], ERCOT is positioned to better plan for and meet the needs of our incredibly fast-growing state.”

Meeting the increased demand will create opportunities for energy investments in Texas, says ERCOT. These opportunities will undoubtedly lie in traditional energy production as well as in renewable energy segments such as solar, wind, and “green” hydrogen.

Some of the opportunities might be financed, at least in part, by the newly established Texas Energy Fund. The fund, which has been allotted $5 billion for 2025-26, will provide loans and grants for construction, maintenance, modernization, and operation of power-generating facilities in Texas.

ERCOT is also working with partners to develop tools aimed at improving grid reliability and market efficiency.

ERCOT says changes in its operations that’ll be required to fulfill heightened demand for power will position the nonprofit organization “as a significant component of the economic engine driving the national economy.”

It might only be Texas' grass that is green. Photo via Getty Images

Here's how Texas ranks among the greenest states

zooming in

Turns out — Texas might not be as green as you thought.

A new report from WalletHub looked at 25 key metrics — from green buildings per capita to energy consumption from renewable resources — to evaluate the current health of states' environment and residents’ environmental-friendliness. Texas ranked No. 38, meaning it was the thirteenth least green state, only scoring 50.40 points out of 100.

“It’s important for every American to do their part to support greener living and protect our environment. However, it’s much easier being green in some states than others," writes Cassandra Happe, a WalletHub Analyst, in the report. "For example, if a state doesn’t have a great infrastructure for alternative-fuel vehicles, it becomes much harder for residents to adopt that technology. Living in a green state is also very beneficial for the health of you and your family, as you benefit from better air, soil and water quality.”

Here's how Texas ranked among a few of the key metrics:

  • No. 35 for air quality
  • No. 38 for soil quality
  • No. 38 for water quality
  • No. 26 for LEED-certified buildings per capita
  • No. 32 for percent of renewable energy consumption
  • No. 45 for energy consumption per capita
  • No. 38 for gasoline consumption (in gallons) per capita
Despite Texas' solar energy generation surpassed the output by coal last month, according to a report from the Institute For Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the Lone Star State has room for improvement.
California was ranked as the greenest state, with Vermont, New York, Maryland, and Washington, respectively, rounding out the top five. The country's least green state is West Virginia, followed by Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

The report also zeroed in on how politics play into a state's climate system. Democrat-led states ranked around No. 15 on average, whereas Republican states fell at around No. 36.


Source: WalletHub
In Texas last month, coal use dropped and solar energy soared, according to a new report. Photo via Pexels

Report: Solar tops coal in Texas for energy generation for the first time

by the numbers

For the first time in Texas, according to a recent report, solar energy generation surpassed the output by coal.

The report — from the Institute For Energy Economics and Financial Analysis — sourced the Energy Information Administration’s hourly grid monitor for March 2024. This shift in a predominantly oil and gas dominated history of Texas energy output, was due to solar power’s 3.26 million megawatt-hours to Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid, compared to coal’s 2.96 million MWh.

In addition, coal’s market share fell below 10 percent to 9 percent for the first time ever, to just over 9 percent. The increase in solar energy pushed solar’s share of ERCOT generation to more than 10 percent for the month, which was also a first.

Due to its sheer size, Texas is the No.1 state for solar capacity. According to the report from SmartAsset, the Lone Star State has the most clean energy capacity at 56,405 megawatts, but continues to trail states with similar geographic characteristics in overall clean energy prevalence.

Texas only 38 percent of the state’s electricity capacity comes from clean electricity, and it has the second-largest solar capacity, which means Texas has the most means, space, and potential to accommodate cleaner electricity. Texas as a whole, ranked No. 22 on the list for states with the most clean energy in the SmartAsset report.

In Texas, generation in March 2024 was 1.17 million MWh more year-over-year, which is a 56 percent increase. ERCOT data shows that the system currently has 22,710 megawatts (MW) of operational solar capacity according to IEEFA, and is expected to expand by almost one-third by the end of 2024 with an additional 7,168 MW of capacity added. The number just considers Texas solar projects that have set aside the financing required to get onto the ERCOT grid and that have a signed interconnection agreement.

Texas burned 50.7 million tons of coal for electricity, which was 13 percent of the U.S. total in 2023 according to the EIA grid monitor. Coal's annual share of ERCOT demand ranged from 36 percent to 40 percent from 2003 through 2014. The last year percent. In 2020, coal was under 20 percent in 2020; and was less than 15 percent in 2023 supplying just 13.9 percent of the system’s total demand.

The IEEFA notes coal’s low March production is important because in recent years it has been the moderate temperatures of April and May and steady winds that have affected the usage and the market share.

Fast Company magazine just placed Fervo Energy and Syzygy Plasmonics on its energy innovation list. Photo via Getty Images

2 Houston cleantech companies rank on most innovative energy companies lists

getting recognized

A pair of Houston energy startups have been named among the 10 most innovative energy companies for 2024.

Fast Company magazine just placed Fervo Energy and Syzygy Plasmonics on its energy innovation list. In all, 606 companies and organizations across a variety of industries were recognized for “reshaping industries and culture.”

Fervo produces carbon-free geothermal energy. Its existing geothermal project is in Nevada, and it’s building a geothermal project in Utah. The company recently raised $244 million.

“Solar and wind are cheap, but they don’t provide the kind of always-on dispatchable electricity that hydropower, hydrogen, and nuclear do; even at current high prices, enhanced geothermal is still cheaper than those other sources,” Fast Company notes.

The Fast Company accolade comes shortly after Time and Statista named Fervo one of the top greentech companies for 2024.

By relying on light rather than combustion to generate chemical reactions, Syzygy is taking on the use of fossil fuels in the chemical industry, Fast Company points out. Fossil fuels account for about 18 percent of the world’s industrial CO2 emissions.

Fast Company outlines some of Syzygy’s accomplishments in 2023:

  • Gained an undisclosed amount of funding from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  • Completed its Pearland manufacturing facility.
  • Wrapped up 1,000 cumulative hours of testing on its ammonia-splitting reactor cell, capable of producing 200 kilograms of hydrogen per day.

———

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas will make up 35 percent of new utility-scale solar capacity in the U.S. this year. Photo via Getty Images

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.

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Houston expert: How to make the EV switch while factoring in impact, cost

Guest Column

Americans are in the midst of getting to know electric cars up close and personal. The finer points of charging and battery technology are now becoming mainstream news.

However, there’s a secret about electric vehicles (EVs) that very few people know, because very few people have driven an electric car with 50,000 or 100,000 miles on it. Very often, EVs drive like new even if they’ve clocked up the miles. No rattles and no shakes, and importantly there is no loss of efficiency, unlike gas cars which tend to lose fuel efficiency as they age. Most strikingly, battery degradation and loss of range is often minimal — even after the odometer hits 6 digits.

What does this mean? At a time when car payments, repair costs and gas prices are all weighing on consumer wallets, we are about to enter an era when it will get easier than ever before for Americans to find a great driving, longer lasting car that saves on fuel costs and needs less maintenance.

This represents an amazing source of value for American drivers to be tapped into - plus even more positive changes for the auto sector, and the potential for new business models.

Narratives about EVs have focused on fears about battery degradation and today’s models becoming dated as technology rapidly advances. The fact that we are all habituated to replacing smartphone batteries that fade within 2 to 3 years doesn’t help.

Auto manufacturers have put 100,000 mile warranties on batteries, but this may have created the perception that this is a ceiling, rather than a floor, for what can be expected from an EV battery.

EV batteries are performing much better than your last smartphone battery. We know this with growing certainty because it’s backed up by evidence. Data reveals that older Teslas average only 12 percent loss of original range at 200,000 miles — double the warranty period.

Furthermore, battery advances are happening at an encouraging pace. You can expect that newer batteries will start with higher ranges and degrade even more slowly. And even after they do, the value shorter range will increase as charging infrastructure matures.

In other words, a 2024 Volkswagen ID.4 with 291 miles of range may be down to 260 miles by the time it has put on 100,000 miles. But in the 5 to 7 years that typically takes, the buildout of charging stations means that range will have much more utility than today.

So in sum, electric vehicles can be expected to last longer with lower maintenance. Over-the-air software upgrades, and perhaps even computing hardware upgrades, will keep them feeling modern. Charging infrastructure will improve much faster than range will degrade. And crucially for the value of these cars, the drive quality will remain great much further into product lifetime.

The trend for driving older cars is already here – the average age of a car on US roads is 12 years old and rising. But now this will shift towards better quality, plus fuel savings, for more people.

New business models and services will help customers take advantage — especially those customers for whom lower cost EVs will represent a step up and savings on the cost of living.

At Houston-based Octopus Electric Vehicles, we are doing this today with something virtually unheard of: leasing pre-owned cars. With electric cars that are 1 to 4 years old, with clean histories and in excellent cosmetic and mechanical condition but depreciated relative to new EV prices, we are frequently able to offer discounts of 30 percent or more, even against heavily incentivized lease offers from automakers. And, because EV maintenance needs are lower, we can throw in free scheduled maintenance with our monthly payment, delivered by a mobile mechanic service.

The secret value of higher-mileage EVs won’t stay secret for long. There’s no replacing first hand experience, and you can probably get that the next time you order an Uber or Lyft by choosing their EV ride options. Before your ride is up, try to guess what’s on the odometer. You may be surprised to hear from your driver that the car you thought was brand new has 50,000 or 100,000 miles on it.

———

Nathan Wyeth is the United States co-lead at Octopus Electric Vehicles.

New endangered listing for rare lizard could slow oil and gas drilling in Texas, New Mexico

to save the species

Federal wildlife officials declared a rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species Friday, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world’s most lucrative oil and natural gas basins.

“We have determined that the dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. It concluded that the lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47 percent of its range.

Much of the the 2.5-inch-long (6.5-centimeter), spiny, light brown lizard's remaining habitat has been fragmented, preventing the species from finding mates beyond those already living close by, according to biologists.

“Even if there were no further expansion of the oil and gas or sand mining industry, the existing footprint of these operations will continue to negatively affect the dunes sagebrush lizard into the future,” the service said in its final determination, published in the Federal Register.

The decision caps two decades of legal and regulatory skirmishes between the U.S. government, conservationists and the oil and gas industry. Environmentalists cheered the move, while industry leaders condemned it as a threat to future production of the fossil fuels.

The decision provides a “lifeline for survival” for a unique species whose “only fault has been occupying a habitat that the fossil fuel industry has been wanting to claw away from it,” said Bryan Bird, the Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard spent far too long languishing in a Pandora’s box of political and administrative back and forth even as its population was in free-fall towards extinction,” Bird said in a statement.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association expressed disappointment, saying the determination flies in the face of available science and ignores longstanding state-sponsored conservation efforts across hundreds of thousands of acres and commitment of millions of dollars in both states.

“This listing will bring no additional benefit for the species and its habitat, yet could be detrimental to those living and working in the region,” PBPA President Ben Shepperd and NMOGA President and CEO Missi Currier said in a joint statement, adding that they view it as a federal overreach that can harm communities.

Scientists say the lizards are found only in the Permian Basin, the second-smallest range of any North American lizard. The reptiles live in sand dunes and among shinnery oak, where they feed on insects and spiders and burrow into the sand for protection from extreme temperatures.

Environmentalists first petitioned for the species' protection in 2002, and in 2010 federal officials found that it was warranted. That prompted an outcry from some members of Congress and communities that rely on oil and gas development for jobs and tax revenue.

Several Republican lawmakers sent a letter to officials in the Obama administration asking to delay a final decision, and in 2012, federal officials decided against listing the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the time that the decision was based on the “best available science” and because of voluntary conservation agreements in place in New Mexico and Texas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in Friday's decision that such agreements “have provided, and continue to provide, many conservation benefits” for the lizard, but “based on the information we reviewed in our assessment, we conclude that the risk of extinction for the dunes sagebrush lizard is high despite these efforts.”

Among other things, the network of roads will continue to restrict movement and facilitate direct mortality of dunes sagebrush lizards from traffic, it added, while industrial development “will continue to have edge effects on surrounding habitat and weaken the structure of the sand dune formations.”

Energy transition events roundup, 3 Houston cos. make it to global competition finals, and more things to know

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 really big deal from last week, three startups make it to the finals of an Elon Musk-backed competition, and five events not to miss.

Companies to watch: 

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. Click here to read more.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • 2nd Annual Geothermal Transition Summit for North America will take place May 21 and 22 at The Hilton Greenway Plaza. Engage in discussions on early-project development, industry policies, the synergy with the oil and gas industry, methods to enhance commerciality, and explore case studies from ground-breaking projects.Register now.
  • 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.

Big deal: Equinor bets on lithium

Equinor, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, has entered into a deal to take a 45-percent share in two lithium project companies in Southwest Arkansas and East Texas. The agreement is with Vancouver, Canada-based Standard Lithium Ltd. to make the acquisition. Standard Lithium retaining operatorship, while Equinor will support through its core competencies, like subsurface and project execution capabilities.

Standard Lithium retains the other 55 percent of the projects. Per the deal, will pay $30 million in past costs net to the acquired interest. The company also agreed to carry Standard Lithium's capex of $33 million "to progress the assets towards a possible final investment decision," per the release. Additionally, Equinor will make milestone payments of up to $70 million in aggregate to Standard Lithium should a final investment decision be taken. Click here to read more.