The ExxonMobil Foundation has invested more than $17 million in the Open Doors Project. Photo via Khan Academy

The ExxonMobil Foundation announced they are collaborating with the Khan Academy on the Open Doors Project, which aims to bring free math and science courses and teacher guides to Texas in a larger goal to inspire new STEM leaders.

The Open Doors Project will be the largest single curriculum project for Khan Academy, and will reach schools in Houston.

“Our main goal with this program is to meet the needs of Texas teachers and students,” Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, says in a news release. “We’re grateful for the ExxonMobil Foundation’s vision and support for developing courses and teacher guides that will deliver world-class math and science resources to students and teachers when and where they need it.”

The ExxonMobil Foundation is providing support for the creation of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)-aligned math and science courses for 3-12 grades through the Open Doors Project. These courses will make it easier to align with the non-profit Khan Academy’s vision of providing free “world-class education” in their classrooms.

The program will include structured lesson plans and instructional guidance that are adaptable for students' various learning styles to help reach “mastery” level of multiple STEM topics. The first round of courses will begin on June 30 with additional courses to come in 2025 and 2026.

The ExxonMobil Foundation has invested more than $17 million in the Open Doors Project, and offers additional support through the Khan Academy Districts to primary and secondary schools in areas where ExxonMobil operates, which includes Houston, Western Texas and the Gulf Coast. Khan Academy is available in large institutions like Kipp and Houston Independent School District, which uses the academy as part of its college readiness program.

“We’re committed to addressing the gap in STEM education,” Alvin Abraham, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation, says in a news release. “With Khan Academy’s help, we can empower teachers to work with students to master the STEM curriculum and take their knowledge into careers that can change the world.”

Despite making up more than 57 percent of the workforce, women are still significantly outnumbered by men in STEM professions. The SUPERGirls Shine Foundation is hoping to change that in Houston and beyond. Photo via htxenergytransition.org

Houston organization strives for equity for energy transition for young women in STEM

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STEM occupations account for nearly 7 percent of all U.S. occupations, however, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women make up only 27 percent of STEM workers. Studies continue to show that between the ages 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30 percent and by the time they reach middle school, they completely lack confidence and self-esteem to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Loretta Williams Gurnell is working to change the narrative for Houston students.

In 2016, Gurnell established SUPERGirls Shine Foundation, which is a Houston-based nonprofit organization that is focused on providing underserved girls with the opportunity and resources to succeed in STEM. By providing a strong STEM foundation, the organization equips girls with the tools to excel in professions that traditionally have low female and diverse representation.

In addition, the organization focuses on closing the gender gap in STEM, noting that their goal is to increase the number of girls in STEM classes, degrees and careers by 25 percent by the year 2025. Despite making up more than 57 percent of the workforce, women are still significantly outnumbered by men in STEM professions.

On a yearly basis, SUPERGirls Shine Foundation awards graduating high school seniors and collegiate ambassadors up to $10,000 dollars to close the financial gaps for college degrees. The foundation offers internships for college students and recent graduates to bring awareness, access and equity for more women and girls from underserved communities in STEM, innovation and leadership initiatives.

Through their 40/40 Mentorship Program, the foundation matches high-level industry leaders to grades 8th – 12th to provide skill-building and networking opportunities. The SUPERGirls Collegiate Ambassador Membership Program serves as a network for college students and recent graduates seeking community, careers and access to industry experts and mentors in STEM.

Learn more about Greentown Labs startup SUPERGirls Shine Foundation and how the organization is providing underserved girls with the opportunity and resources to succeed in STEM.

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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.

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Houston energy businesses score spots on prestigious list of most influential companies

LEADING THE PACK

Five companies with strong ties to Houston have been named among this year’s 100 most influential companies by Time magazine, with a few representing the energy industry.

The five companies are:

  • South Korea’s Hanwha Group, whose Hanwha Power Systems Americas subsidiary is in Houston. Hanwha, known as the “Lockheed Martin of Asia,” was praised for winning approval last year from the American Bureau of Shipping for the world’s first large-scale, carbon-free liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessel.
  • Saudi Aramco, whose Americas headquarters is in Houston. Time cited Saudi Aramco’s dominance in the global oil market as a $1.9 billion “giant.”
  • Germany-based ThyssenKrupp Nucera, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston. The company builds alkaline water electrolyzers to power steel mills and other fossil-fuel-dependent industrial sites.
  • United Airlines, which operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Chicago-based United was lauded for funding startups that help produce sustainable aviation fuel.
  • Houston-based Intuitive Machines. In February, the company’s Odysseus spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to land on the moon. The feat also marked the first U.S. landing on the moon since 1972.

To come up with the fourth annual list, Time solicited nominations and polled in-house contributors and correspondents, along with external experts. Editors at Time then evaluated each company based on factors such as impact, innovation, ambition, and success.

“The result is a diverse group of 100 businesses helping chart an essential path forward,” the magazine says.

In a news release, Time’s editor in chief, Sam Jacobs, says the list of 100 companies “is more than an index of business success.”

“It is an argument for what business influence looks like in 2024,” Jacobs adds. “At a time when leadership in other sectors is battered, surveys suggest that many look to corporate leaders first for direction …. Each show us how companies can provide new models and new inspiration for the future of humanity.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston solar manufacturer opens new 50,000-square-foot facility

new to hou

A Houston-area solar tracker manufacturer opened its new manufacturing facilities last week. The $30 million project is dedicated to manufacturing solar structures and trackers in part of the country’s goal to expand solar power generation infrastructure.

PV Hardware USA cut the ribbon on the new facility on May 30 in Houston. The new, 50,000-square-foot facility is one of America’s largest, according to the company.

“With the opening of this factory in Houston, PVH USA is affirming its unwavering commitment to solar energy development in the United States,” PVH CEO Emilio García says in a news release. “Our Houston operation will be a key player in the development of utility-scale solar energy across America, and we look forward to driving progress as a leading solar tracker manufacturer.”

PV Hardware USA cut the ribbon on the new facility on May 30 in Houston. Photo courtesy of PVH

The facility aims to provide custom-built solar tracking systems for new solar generation projects, which is expected to be a lead source of growth in the U.S. energy power sector. Solar power generation is projected to increase from 95 Gigawatts (GW) of total generating capacity to 131 GW in 2024, and then climb to 174 GW by 2025 according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The new Houston factory will employ more than 120 local workers, and is part of a larger mission to bring jobs, and increased awareness to renewable energy efforts.

“We are committed to powering the solar revolution with U.S. manufacturing and workers,” Garcia adds in the release. “The incentives provided through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are a tremendous opportunity to promote domestic manufacturing and support local communities. PVH USA aims to contribute to job creation and economic growth while bolstering the nation's renewable energy infrastructure.”

The new 50,000-square-foot facility is one of America’s largest, according to the company. Photo courtesy of PVH

Op-Ed: To protect the Texas grid, help Texans protect themselves

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On the evening of May 16, a devastating “derecho” storm howled through Houston. Nearly 800,000 customers lost power. Many were still without electricity days later, as a heat wave baked neighborhoods that couldn’t power air conditioners.

It was yet another unwelcome reminder about the precariousness of the power grid.

These outages followed repeated grid warnings, conservation calls, and near-misses last summer and the summer before, as well as the catastrophic Winter Storm Uri freeze in February 2021.

The outages also preceded the increasingly extreme weather Texas faces and staggering growth on the ERCOT grid: after growing about 1 percent a year for 20 years, the power grid covering most of Texas may need to be 78 percent bigger by 2030.

So, this latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. It also shows that more and more, the state needs you to act.

Like any other market, a power grid runs on supply and demand. The supply of Texas energy is growing, which is great. At the same time, the economy is booming, leaving Texas setting demand records almost constantly. Generators can’t always keep up, especially when power plants break down or don’t produce electricity — there’s about an 18 percent chance that Texas will face at least one grid emergency this summer.

With odds like that, it’s no wonder that more and more Texans are finding ways to live more powerfully. Many are investing in solar panels and energy storage devices like Tesla Powerwalls.

These systems let families and business owners generate electricity during the day, store it, and use it later when there’s an emergency or just when power is scarce. They protect people from high bills and blackouts; it’s no coincidence that just since last month's storm, we've seen a five-fold increase in leads, reflecting a huge growth in interest in solar power. Further, since the storm, 90 percent of new Houston-area solar customers have bought backup battery systems, compared to 50 percent in 2024 and less than 25 percent in 2023.

That pattern has repeated across the country after severe weather events.

Homeowners and business owners can also slash their bills by weatherizing houses and buildings, the way power plants did after Uri. Advanced devices that help people automatically, and voluntarily, reduce electricity use when the grid is stretched would also help.

These improvements and investments would help more than just homeowners and business owners — they’d help the entire power grid. Every kilowatt that someone doesn’t need or can generate themselves frees up power for other families and businesses across the grid. That helps Texas keep the lights on, especially if electricity demand is about to spike as dramatically as the state expects.

Texas already incentivizes conservation and generation at a large scale. For example, large users like manufacturers and crypto miners get paid by ERCOT for reducing electricity use when the grid is stretched. And just last year, the legislature passed a $10 billion program to help fund new gas power plants.

It’s past time to extend similar incentives to everyday Texans, especially when we’re increasingly called upon to help ERCOT keep the lights on.

If crypto companies get money for reducing electricity use when ERCOT asks them to, then residential and business customers deserve to get paid too. The state could help Texans invest in technologies and smart metering programs that cut bills andautomatically reward people for reducing use on the hottest afternoons and coldest mornings.

More than that, the state has got to do more to reward solar customers who generate electricity and return it to the grid when demand rises. These virtual power plants will increasingly provide vital power when the state badly needs it, and consumers need to be rewarded for it. (Fortunately, the state is looking at strategies to take better advantage of virtual power plants.)

Finally, if Texas is helping big generators build gas plants, it should figure out ways to help regular Texans install solar panels and battery storage units. Such systems obviously help protect Texans from power outages, but they also fortify the ERCOT grid by reducing the demand on it.

Last month’s derecho was exactly the sort of freak occurrence that will become more common as the weather grows more extreme. The best way to protect the grid from such catastrophes is to protect individual Texas customers as well.

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Bret Biggart is CEO of Freedom Solar Power, a Texas-based solar company.