At last year's awards program, Cemvita Factory's co-founders, Tara and Moji Karimi, accepted the award for the Green Impact Business category. This year, Moji Karimi served as a judge

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards announced its 52 finalists — a large portion of which are promising energy transition startups.

The awards program — hosted by EnergyCapital's sister site, InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — will name its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community.

The following startups, which all have an energy transition element to their business, received a finalist position in one or two categories.

Click here to secure your tickets to see who wins.

  • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent, scored two finalist positions — one in the Female-Owned Business category and the other in the Social Impact Business category.
  • Eden Grow Systems, next generation farming technologies, is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • Feelit Technologies, nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime, is a finalist in the Female-Owned Business category and the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy, scored two finalist positions — one in the Sustainability Business category and the other in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment, is a finalist in the Hardtech Business category.
  • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry, is a finalist in the Hardtech Business category.
  • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future, was named a finalist in the SustainabilityBusiness category.
  • Kanin Energy, helping heavy industry monetize their waste heat and decarbonize their operations, was named a finalist in the BIPOC-Owned Business and the SustainabilityBusiness categories.
  • Mars Materials, developing a carbon-negative pathway for carbon fiber and acrylamide production using CO2 and biomass as raw materials, is a finalist in the BIPOC-Owned Business category.
  • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk, is a finalist in the Digital Solutions Business category.
  • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas, is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • Sage Geosystems, a cost-effective geothermal baseload energy solution company, also innovating underground energy storage solutions, was named a finalist in the Sustainability Business category.
  • Solugen, decarbonizing the chemical industry, is a finalist in the Hardtech Business category.
  • Square Robot, applying robotic technology to eliminate the need to put people into dangerous enclosed spaces and eliminate taking tanks out of service, is a finalist in the HardtechBusiness category.
  • Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels, is a finalist in the HardtechBusiness category.
  • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon, was named a finalist in the SustainabilityBusiness category.
  • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas, was named a finalist in the SustainabilityBusiness category.
  • Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024, is a finalist in the HardtechBusiness category.

Additionally, two energy companies were named to the Corporate of the Year category, which honors corporations that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community. Aramco Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures are two of the four finalists in this category.

Lastly, Jason Ethier, co-founder of Lambda Catalyzer and host of the Energy Tech Startups podcast, and Kendrick Alridge, senior manager of community at Greentown Labs, scored finalist positions in the Ecosystem Builder category, as individuals who have acted as leaders in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem.

Click here to see the full list of finalists.

PJ Popovic of Houston-based Rhythm Energy looks back on summer heatwave trends. Photo via Shutterstock

Houston expert looks at wholesale pricing trends occurring this summer

guest column

This summer’s heatwave had a lot of Texans feeling uncomfortable, and it was not just the sweltering triple-digit temperatures, and even higher heat indexes, that had us sweating. With much of the state hitting over 100 degrees for weeks, air conditioners were working overtime to keep homes and businesses cool. That added load, coupled with general demand growth, put a heavy burden on the Texas power grid — and that puts the state in a precarious position.

We all remember Uri in February 2021, when an inch-thick coat of ice hampered power companies' ability to generate power, leading to widespread and lasting power outages across the state. The recent heat wave, however, was different. This past summer, the concern for Texas and ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) was not whether generation would fail, but whether generation capacity could keep pace with peak demand. And what would be the wholesale electricity price to ensure that it did.

The generation mix

As robust as our electricity grid is, on any given day the balance between power supply and demand remains fairly tenuous. In its summer Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, ERCOT projected its power-generation capacity at 97,000 MW. However, that daily capacity number can be misleading.

As Texas’ generation mix leans to a greater degree toward renewable power and we retire more coal and natural gas fired generation plants, our generation output becomes less predictable. Operators can practically flip a switch to turn on fossil fuel generation plants and quickly dispatch its power. Renewable generation, on the other hand, is intermittent and its output by no means guaranteed. While the state’s current combined wind and solar generation can potentially deliver up to 30,000 megawatts, if the right weather conditions are not there, neither is the power.

Meanwhile, the demand for power in Texas has increased dramatically. In recent years, we have seen significant population growth, electrification as well as new business expansion throughout the state. Some of the businesses moving here draw huge loads of power from the grid — think about the companies mining digital currency or Elon Musk’s SpaceX facilities in Central Texas, just to name a few. A considerable demand curve increase occurring simultaneously with the move to more renewable generation challenges the delicate balance of the grid.

Trends and lessons learned from the summer’s wholesale electricity pricing

ERCOT manages the flow of electricity across the state of Texas. It also oversees the wholesale bulk power market whereby generators are paid primarily for the electricity they supply to the grid. To incentivize the development of future generating capacity, ERCOT employs scarcity pricing — that means that commodity prices escalate dramatically as supply becomes constrained.

This summer, ERCOT faced unprecedented demand with daily electricity usage frequently nearing generation capacity limits. Consequently, electricity prices were notably volatile, often skyrocketing exponentially.

ERCOT employs a complex series of pricing mechanisms to establish its real-time price for each megawatt. A deep dive analysis (INSERT LINK) found that the Locational Margin Prices, or LMP, were significantly higher than previous years, even when reserve generation capacities were robust and fuel prices were similar to or lower than prior years.

So, what contributed to the higher than usual prices? Certainly, changes to ERCOT operations, market design tweaks, and transmission constraints contributed, but market prices were most driven by generators’ offer pricing curves.

Now, more than four months removed from the start of the heat wave in June, we can see how different various technologies priced their offerings. The data suggests that a segment of resources, notably battery storage, set their offer prices near or at the system-wide offer price cap. Given the anticipated rise of batteries as the primary dispatchable resource within the grid in coming years, this pricing behavior warrants closer scrutiny.

Offer pricing curves appear to have created a semblance of shortage pricing, evident in the heightened LMPs, even when reserve capacities were not especially scarce. This would suggest that a significant portion of the dispatchable capacity integrated into ERCOT was priced at levels typically seen only in grid emergency conditions

Key questions

Why are the recently added dispatchable resources garnering such high offer prices? Are there operational hurdles in integrating and dispatching batteries, challenges in market design, inherent limitations of batteries on the grid, or other factors contributing to these high offer prices from battery resources? Given that batteries are poised to play a central role in the transition to renewable energy sources, answering these questions will be key.

The current pricing trends in the ERCOT market, if sustained, could lead to increased electricity rates and/or increased price volatility for end-users, underscoring the importance of monitoring and addressing these market dynamics.


PJ Popovic is the CEO of Houston-based Rhythm Energy.

The University of Houston's football season is starting off in a new conference — and with a new renewable energy partner. Photo via

University plugs into Houston renewables co. as official athletics energy provider

go coogs

This college football season brings a lot of newness for the University of Houston: A new conference, following the athletic program's July transition to the Big 12. And a new official energy provider that is 100 percent renewable.

UH Athletics announced last week that Houston-based Rhythm Energy has signed on to be the official energy company of the program. The company will have a presence on signage at all sports venues, a strong digital presence across UH Athletics platforms; and Cougars’ basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, and track and field home events.

Rhythm Energy will also roll out The Go Coogs 12 Plan in time for football season, which will be an exclusive electricity plan to help UH faculty, alumni, students and fans go green.

“As a proud UH alumni, I am so pleased Rhythm Energy has become the Official Energy Company for my alma mater,” PJ Popovic, CEO of Rhythm Energy, said in a statement. “UH is hands down one of the top educational and athletic institutions in the nation, and I’m forever grateful for the knowledge I gained there, which allowed me to start my own renewable energy company. With UH joining the Big 12 Conference, we’re inspired by their success, achievements, and growth—something we strive for at Rhythm Energy every day.”

UH Athletics oversees 17 sport programs — seven on the men's side, including baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, and track and field, and 10 on the women's side, including basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.

Popovic founded Rhythm Energy in 2021. The company offers 100 percent renewable energy plans for Texas residents, using solar power, wind power and other renewable power sources.

The founder spoke with EnergyCapital last month about where he thinks renewables fit into Texas’ energy consumption and grid reliability issues and the shifting public opinion towards renewables.

"There is still a lot (speech) that is not necessarily painting renewables correctly," he tells EnergyCapital.

Houston-based Rhythm Energy CEO and founder, PJ Popovic, discusses the landscape of Texas' energy market and how renewables should be incorporated. Photo courtesy of Rhythm

Houston exec breaks down Texas energy market, role of renewables, and more


After experiencing the hottest day on record this past Fourth of July, PJ Popovic — CEO and founder of green energy retailer Rhythm Energy — explained what extreme temperatures like these mean for Texas’ energy market and the role renewables will play in addressing increased demand response.

Headquartered in Houston, Rhythm Energy launched two years ago and offers a variety of 100 percent renewable energy backed plans, from wind to solar. Popovic discussed with EnergyCapital where he thinks renewables fit into Texas’ energy consumption and grid reliability issues in an interview.

EnergyCapital: Let’s start with some background on Texas’ electricity and energy market. Can you explain ERCOT and PUC and the roles they play in our current market?

PJ Popovic: ERCOT first of all, it stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas. So basically, the easiest way to explain it is it’s our transmission organization and it really coordinates movements of wholesale electricity in most of the state of Texas. It really manages the price of power and balances supply and demand. To make sure that we have power when we flip the light switch on, make sure that power is there. Besides ERCOT, we have something called transmission companies, which is if you know, centerpoint, or ENCORE as an example, they really transport the power and they're compensated by a fee on customers bills. So every customer bill, including the ones that we send with Rhythm, includes Centerpoint charge, which is really the cost of automated Centerpoint maintaining those, those transmission and distribution networks.

And then the Public Utility Commission — the best way and easiest way to explain it — is really responsible for regulating the whole electricity market. And besides the electricity market, they also regulate telecommunications and water and sewer utilities in Texas as well. And they are responsible for making sure we have a well functioning market. Lately there’s been a lot of news because of the market design changes, which really have to be okay with them because that really ties in to regulation of the market and they also resolve customer complaints. Maybe that's another function they do.

EC: What are renewables’ roles in Texas’ energy consumption? How do they play a part in the electric grid’s demand response?

PJP: We really talk a lot about the energy transition, and over the years, you're hearing that more and more in the news. One interesting thing about Texas is that we already went through a first phase — a huge phase — of energy transitions in the prior years. So we've kind of been there, done that.

When I think about energy transitioning, it's really a continuation and acceleration of what's already started. Texas has really secured the top spot right now, in being the biggest renewable provider or having the largest generation fleet powered by renewables in the United States, and really, there was a huge decline in coal, which didn't happen just in Texas, it was across the United States. It really was compensated and then some with the growth in wind and solar.

Renewables play an incredibly important role in Texas — with Texas being a very competitive, free market. It's able to attract a lot of investments and get renewables at scale, which ultimately does lower all of our electricity costs. Demand has been growing in Texas tremendously. Texas summer consumption, highest of the days, hit 79 to 80 gigawatts. Every single year Texas adds approximately one more gigawatt of demand. If you look at the grid growth, we're growing in summers, we're growing even more in winters between.

EC: Since the freeze and subsequent power crisis of 2021, have you noticed a shift in public opinion towards renewables?

PJP: Yes, we have as part of Rhythm. So the unfortunate reality is I think that renewables became a very political question and there's always the question like, “What is right thing versus what is left thing,” and that's the sad reality and I will come come back to it because just a long story short, renewables are and will become a major part of how we supply homes and businesses.

But the shift in public opinion was evident after winter storm Uri. We saw a combination of misinformation, lack of knowledge about how renewables work in the electricity kind of grid collapse we had during the winter storm. And there were a lot of questions about whether winds can support anything, whether it's going to be available when it's hot or cold.

There is still a lot of I would say speech that is not necessarily painting renewables correctly. For example, when we talk about dispatchable generation we tend to talk about gas power plants, about how we need gas power plants. One of the things that I think is beautiful about renewables is that really technology is evolving rapidly and it's advancing insanely fast. And when you talk about dispatchable generation, five years ago, yes, it was gas. But if you think about today, there are already batteries being installed in Texas, and if you think about the future, there's probably half a dozen or dozen different technologies that are going to be renewable based technologies that will potentially play the role of dispatchable generation.

EC: So, if solar continues to grow in market share and sizzling summers continue, why isn't solar taking a larger role in supporting Texas' grid?

PJP: Let's talk about the challenges as well of solar and renewables as they stand today. First of all, one thing I want to set clear, none of the situations we're in should be a surprise. It should not be a surprise at all that we question whether we're going to have electricity in, for example, cold winter days. We've been going through this transition for years. And what happened, we kept retiring dispatchable generation such as coal, which is a good thing, because of the pollution and other other impacts it has on our communities. At the same time, we kept building renewables and there is a continued retirement of generation acids today, and there is at the same time significant upward pressure on the low data centers, electrification and so forth. We also have really great incentives to build more renewables through the inflation Reduction Act, so you're gonna see that acceleration.

However, this is not sustainable. There are periods of time where we do need dispatchable generation, solar and renewables are not dispatchable so there is the famous saying, "if the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining, we're not gonna get any electricity." So the changes in mix where you switch from more dispatchable generation to more just renewable generation is a dangerous one, if you do not have appropriate balance and appropriately view how much generation you need for some really specific hours or specific days with some extreme weather temperatures. So we're quite keen on getting appropriate market design that will incentivize the buildup of dispatchable generation. We love solar, we love wind intermittency, but not being able to turn it on and off is not a bug. It's a feature of that generation. We knew that all along. So the question is really, how do you compliment that with some dispatchable generation that will allow you to secure a well functioning and cost competitive grid?

​EC: What real incentives for consumers should be considered to improve demand response?

PJP: Demand response is one of those components that we really love because we believe that that's definitely again a feature of the grid of the future. I would say maybe before we even go about demand response, first of all, there's a number of solutions that need to be done on the generation side. And those solutions, we are firm believers, should not be locking us into a certain technology. I would say you have to have the right incentives to incentivize the build out to dispatchable generation. However, don't lock us into one technology because technology is rapidly advancing.

We in Texas have to take energy efficiency seriously. If you look at the growth of the load of the demand in Texas, our winters are growing more rapidly than summer peaks. So summer peaks, approximately two and a half gigawatts year over year growth. Winter peaks are growing three and a half gigawatts, and that's not sustainable because at one point you're not going to be able to build out enough generation and enough demand response to be able to supply power to those homes in the cold winter days if we have inefficient electric heating, which is what we're seeing in Texas. Energy efficiency standards have to be raised and that's something that's going to pay dividends in the next several years already.

Demand response is something we're quite keen to see more of. At Rhythm for example, we serve close to 20,000 solar customers with rooftop solar, a lot of them have batteries. So the pulling of those batteries is an example. Being able to dispatch those batteries provides electricity not just for those homes, but also sending the electricity back to the grid is becoming immense. And it's not only a question about what we have today, it's a question about the growth we're seeing in solar and battery installations. The homes are installing solar at a really rapid pace and we're getting to some serious size in terms of what we have behind the meters.

EC: What do you want people to know about how Rhythm addresses grid instability?

PJP: At Rhythm, we really take having a reliable and cost effective grid seriously, so there are a number of solutions we're putting in place and solutions that are coming up that we're going to hopefully be able to announce within the next couple of weeks. We started this 100 percent renewable company, to support energy, movement to renewables and we want to support specific assets that are built in Texas. We are huge believers that renewables are part of the overall solution because every megawatt hour we have from renewable generation is a megawatt hour we do not have to produce from coal or gas. We all know, especially after last year and this year's events, which is the war in Ukraine, how important that is because energy and commodity prices can skyrocket.

Rhythm supports that build up to renewables. At the same time we do advocate for really responsible solutions in the market. So we are actively advocating on behalf of our customers to make sure we have a reliable and well functioning grid. How do we do that? We do that through conversations around performance credit mechanisms, making sure we implement it in a way that benefits Texas consumers. We are the face of Texas customers, we have to explain anything that's not logical that gets implemented. So we take personal responsibility around how those solutions are being really developed and what makes sense for the consumer.

Lastly, we want to look beyond just global energy credits and look at the real products that can make a true difference. So we are investing money now in building new products that are going to incentivize customers to move consumption from those very expensive periods into cheaper periods. Move away from those expensive periods where we pollute a lot, when there is a lot of dirty generation, into periods where we have more renewables. We're going to do that through smart plans that are coming up. We're going to do that to plans where people get a clear financial signal incentive of changes in behavior that will benefit both the grid overall Texas market and their bills. So that's one thing I'm really excited about. We should be launching in a week and a half to two weeks.


This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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

money moves

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

trying for DEI

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.


This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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

global greenlight

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.”