The layoffs could affect about 14,000 of the 140,473 workers employed by the Austin, Texas, company at the end of last year. Photo courtesy of Tesla

After reporting dismal first-quarter sales, Tesla is planning to lay off about a tenth of its workforce as it tries to cut costs, multiple media outlets reported Monday.

CEO Elon Musk detailed the plans in a memo sent to employees. The layoffs could affect about 14,000 of the 140,473 workers employed by the Austin, Texas, company at the end of last year.

Musk's memo said that as Tesla prepares for its next phase of growth, “it is extremely important to look at every aspect of the company for cost reductions and increasing productivity,” The New York Times and CNBC reported. News of the layoffs was first reported by electric vehicle website Electrek.

Also Monday, two key Tesla executives announced on the social media platform X that they are leaving the company. Andrew Baglino, senior vice president of powertrain and energy engineering, wrote that he had made the decision to leave after 18 years with the company.

Rohan Patel, senior global director of public policy and business development, also wrote on X that he was leaving Tesla, after eight years.

Baglino, who held several top engineering jobs at the company and was chief technology officer, wrote that the decision to leave was difficult. “I loved tackling nearly every problem we solved as a team and feel gratified to have contributed to the mission of accelerating the transition to sustainable energy,” he wrote.

He has no concrete plans beyond spending more time with family and his young children, but wrote that he has difficulty staying still for long.

Musk thanked Baglino in a reply. “Few have contributed as much as you,” he wrote.

Shares of Tesla fell 4.8 percent Monday afternoon, hours after news of the layoffs and departures broke. Shares of Tesla Inc. have lost about one-third of their value so far this year as sales of electric vehicles soften.

Tesla sales fell sharply last quarter as competition increased worldwide, electric vehicle sales growth slowed, and price cuts failed to draw more buyers. The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9 percent below the 423,000 it sold in the same quarter of last year.

Since last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models as it faced increasing competition and slowing demand. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla's profit margins.

The company has said it will reveal an autonomous robotaxi at an event in August.

The combined technology portfolios will accelerate the introduction of promising early-stage decarbonization technology. Photo via Getty Images

SLB to consolidate carbon capture business in partnership

M&A moves

SLB announced its plans to combine its carbon capture business with Norway company, Aker Carbon Capture.

Upon completion of the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the second quarter of this year, SLB will own 80 percent of the combined business and ACC will own 20 percent.

According to a SLB news release, the combined technology portfolios will accelerate the introduction of promising early-stage decarbonization technology.

“For CCUS to have the expected impact on supporting global net-zero ambitions, it will need to scale up 100-200 times in less than three decades,” Olivier Le Peuch, CEO of SLB, says in the release. “Crucial to this scale-up is the ability to lower capture costs, which often represent as much as 50-70% of the total spend of a CCUS project.

The International Energy Agency estimates that over one gigaton of CO2 every year year will need to be captured by 2030 — a figure that scales up to over six gigatons by 2050.

"We are excited to create this business with ACC to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture technologies that will shift the economics of carbon capture across high-emitting industrial sectors,” Le Peuch continues.

SLB is slated to pay NOK 4.12 billion — around $379.4 million — to own 80 percent of Aker Carbon Capture Holding AS, which owns ACC, per the news release, and SLB may also pay up to NOK 1.36 billion over the next three years, depending on business performance.

Proactively engaging in advocating for opportunities within the industry across all job levels is essential to guaranteeing a consistent influx of skilled workers, meeting the growing construction demands of both our state and nation. Photo via Getty Images

Expert: Addressing skilled labor needs in Houston — including the role technology plays

The construction industry in the U.S. is experiencing a substantial demand for skilled workers. There are over 438,000 job openings, and this demand is projected to increase, aiming to attract over half a million workers to meet the upcoming labor needs.

The urgency is heightened as a significant percentage — more than 40 percent — of the existing workforce is expected to retire within the next eight years.

To top it off, Texas is the fastest growing state with more than nine million new residents between 2000 and 2022. With a growing population, the requirement for robust infrastructure, encompassing various sectors like transportation, health care, education, and residential development, continues to escalate. Encouraging careers in construction among the younger generation becomes vital for everyone, no matter their industry, to meet these demands and bridge the deepening skills gap.

Viable Career Path: Attracting the next wave of construction talent involves dispelling misconceptions about the industry. Many young individuals might not realize the breadth of opportunities available in construction beyond traditional manual labor. I personally gained interest and experience in the industry at a young age before navigating through a few IT careers, and then landed back in construction and worked my way up, which exemplifies the diverse career paths within the industry.

Education and training play a pivotal role in molding the future workforce. Highlighting that formal education isn't the sole path to success, apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs emerge as excellent alternatives, providing hands-on learning experiences while earning a wage. Collaborating with educational institutions and organizations at an early stage can introduce students to the industry's diverse career avenues.

As with every industry, diversity encourages innovation. Business leaders who intentionally recruit from underrepresented groups, including women and minorities, within the industry will reap countless benefits.

Innovative Technologies: Showcasing the innovative and technological aspects of the industry, such as precision tools, drone technology, AI, and virtual reality, underscores the creative and forward-thinking nature of construction careers. The construction industry continues to evolve and become technologically advanced. The need for cutting-edge individuals who possess construction skills with an understanding of technical innovations will transform the industry.

Stability: Highlighting the industry’s stability, competitive compensation, and the promising opportunities for career growth can further attract potential candidates. Advocating for stringent safety measures and emphasizing the importance of sustainable building practices introduces an added layer of social responsibility, capturing the attention of those committed to ensuring a secure work environment.

Ultimately, the collective efforts of the current workforce and today’s business leaders are pivotal in addressing the imminent skills gap that stands to affect us all. Proactively engaging in advocating for opportunities within the industry across all job levels is essential to guaranteeing a consistent influx of skilled workers, meeting the growing construction demands of both our state and nation.

———

Randy Pitre serves as the vice president of operations for Skanska USA Building’s North Texas and Houston building operations.

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston-based WellWorth was selected as the winner of this year’s Houston Startup Showcase. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston energy SaaS startup wins local pitch competition

no. 1

The Ion hosted its annual startup pitch competition, and one company walked away with a win.

WellWorth, a financial modeling and analysis software-as-a-service company for the upstream energy sector, won the Houston Startup Showcase + Expo and secured a $5,000 prize. The startup's technology introduces a more streamlined approach to NAV modeling or corporate financial modeling for its users.

“Having worked in investment banking, I have seen firsthand how the limitations of Excel models and a lack of bespoke tools have led to inefficient workflows in upstream Oil & Gas finance," says Samra Nawaz, CEO and Co-founder of WellWorth, in a statement. "We decided to solve this problem by building a cloud-based platform that helps energy finance leaders improve decision-making around raising, managing, and deploying capital.”

Nawaz explains how impactful the opportunity to pitch has been on WellWorth, which aims to raise funding early next year accelerate customer acquisition and product development.

“By getting involved in the Ion’s innovation ecosystem, we’ve been able to not only network with many entrepreneurs and innovators in the Houston community, but also find opportunities to scale our growth,” continues Nawaz. “We’re thrilled to have brought a few more customers onboard recently, and are working closely with them to optimize our product pipeline."

The company pitched alongside the other five finalists, which included Tierra Climate, MRG Health, BeOne Sports, Trez, and Mallard Bay. Mallard Bay, a booking platform for hunting and fishing trips, secured the people's choice award, which was decided by the crowd.

“Our flagship event, Houston Startup Showcase, not only connects startups and entrepreneurs with top business leaders but also provides them an opportunity to pitch their innovations to the technology ecosystem,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in a news release. “We extend our congratulations to WellWorth and the company’s innovative SaaS platform for energy industry finance teams, as well as Mallard Bay, the People’s Choice winner. These companies are exemplifying the exciting new technologies being developed in Houston today.”

In addition to the pitches, several companies showcased at the event, including Nanotech, manufacturer of thermal management materials for the built environment; last year's winner Unytag, a universal toll tag that provides drivers the ability to pass through tolls anywhere in the nation; and Softeq, provides early-stage innovation, technology business consulting, and full-stack development solutions to enterprise companies and innovative startups.

Scott Nyquist on the future of technology and how they affect the energy industry. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Where is tech going? And can the energy industry keep up?

guest column

When smart people come together to consider the future, it’s worth listening to them.

Not long ago, McKinsey brought together more than 60 experts, and asked them to name the most important technology trends for business. They started from the premise that the next 10 years will see more technological progress than in the previous 100 years—and that this will up-end companies and industries everywhere.

“We believe the technology disruption over the next few years will be equal to the industrial revolution,” says Nicolaus Henke, a McKinsey alum who participated in this Tech Trends Index, which will be updated annually.

Here are some of the specific predictions. More than three-quarters of enterprise-generated data will be processed by edge or cloud computing by 2025. Ten percent of global GDP could be associated with blockchain by 2027. Renewables will produce 75 percent of global energy by 2050. 5G could reach 80 percent of the world’s population by 2030.

Time will tell if any or all of these are right; personally, I think renewables will have to wait a little longer for that kind of dominance. But by and large, I found the list, and the underlying thinking, compelling. And given my background in oil-and-gas, I thought it was striking that parts of the energy industry are working on just about every single one of them. Here is the list:

  • Next-level process automation and visualization.
  • Future of connectivity.
  • Distributed infrastructure.
  • Next-generation computing.
  • Applied artificial intelligence (AI).
  • Future of programming.
  • Trust architecture.
  • Bio revolution.
  • Next-generation materials.
  • Future of clean technologies.

Specifically, the first half-dozen items are all connected to digitization, and while the energy industry may not be at the cutting edge of development, it has a long track record of integrating these technologies and safely deploying them in order to deliver low-cost and reliable supply.

For example, the oil and gas industry has used AI for years to evaluate reservoirs and to plan drilling—one of many improvements over the traditional “one rock, two geologists, three opinions" way of doing things. And advanced materials, such as composites, engineered polymers, and low-density/high-strength metals and alloys are commonly used to lower costs and improve performance, for example in deep water oil and gas production and rotating equipment. As for connectivity, there is no shortage of commitment, but I think it is fair to say that the full potential has not been tapped.

McKinsey has estimated that making use of advanced connectivity alone—to optimize drilling and production, as well as to improve maintenance and field operations—could translate into $250 billion in value by 2030. That is something that the industry could really use, given recent price fluctuations. Taken as a whole, while the industry is nowhere near completing a full digital transformation, it is certainly well on its way.

As for the item most clearly connected to the industry — No. 10, clean technologies — at first glance, this might seem like bad news for traditional energy players. Not so fast. There are clear opportunities in areas such as clean coal, carbon capture, and energy storage. Moreover, other kinds of clean technologies can help the industry decarbonize its operations—something that will become more important as carbon regulation gets more stringent.

As I see it, then, while parts of the industry may seem old-school, it is actually heavily engaged in almost everything on the list. That should come as no surprise. From the first time oil was pumped in Pennsylvania in 1859, it has innovated and adapted to integrate technologies that improved productivity, safety, and environmental performance. In fact, it could it could even be said that the sector is part of what is often known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution—the convergence and interaction of physical, digital, and biological technologies.

I, and many others in the industry, believe that the ongoing energy transition will likely suppress demand for fossil fuels in the long term. But while the items on the Tech Trends Index, together and separately, will be disruptive, requiring big changes in business models and day-to-day operations, they could also help the industry to adapt.

———

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 on October 4, 2021.

A California tech company is planning on rolling out a handful of atmospheric water generation projects near Houston. Photo via skyh2o.com

Innovative California company taps Houston area for purified water projects

PFA-free H2O

Houstonians are used to filtering their water, but few really ponder why they’re doing it.

“Most people, when they think about water stress, they think about water scarcity, like what you see happening in Northern Africa or maybe the Southern U.S.,” says Alexander von Welczeck, chairman, president and CEO of SkyH2O. “A bigger, creeping issue, particularly in the industrialized world, is water toxicity.”

Some Houston tap water contains “forever chemicals” that can be toxic, as some reports have found. In fact, says von Welczeck, water toxicity is a problem across the Gulf Coast. That’s why the California-based businessman has identified Houston as the first region to benefit from SkyH2O’s technology.

The company will break ground on its first SkyH2O Station in the first quarter of 2024 in Dickinson, strategically placed between Houston and Galveston. That will be followed by another in Angleton. Eventually, says von Welczeck, there will be eight SkyH2O stations in the greater Houston area.

Von Welczek describes a SkyH2O Station as bearing a resemblance to “a big, modern gas station, but as opposed to gas, the primary product is fresh, healthy water.” With everything from charging stations for electric vehicles to a farmers market-style set-up of sustainable food, the stations will indeed be like a futuristic gas station.

Water will be distributed both in recyclable packaging for smaller businesses and homes, and in bulk to fill water tankers for ranches and other larger customers. Von Welczeck foresees, for example, Galveston cruise ships filling up with a supply of water at that station.

But where will this fresh, clean water come from? SkyH2O uses atmospheric water generation, or AWG, systems to pull humidity from the air and turn it into potable water. The higher the humidity, the more water can be produced.

“Obviously in and around Houston, we have tremendous humidity,” von Welczeck says.

This is all done using the Maximus 4260, the latest and greatest of the company’s AWG systems. The machine is rated to produce 10,500 litres of fresh, potable water a day. It produces net zero water, meaning that it doesn’t come from any existing water resource.

What comes out initially is a semi-distilled, purified water. The next step is further filtering it and adding minerals to make the product potable for customers. Von Welczeck says that SkyH2O’s water meets the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s water standards.

The serial entrepreneur has been working in the climate tech space since 2002 and has a proven track record. Von Welczeck says that he sold his company, Solar Power Partners, to NRG in 2010.

“From my perspective, most everything in climate technology, whether it's clean energy, recycling, even food and water, they're all interrelated,” he says.

After opening around 20 Texas locations, von Welczeck has his sights set on covering the entire Gulf Coast. After that, he hopes to expand to Mediterranean Europe, particularly water-strapped islands. He’s even in discussions with potential clients in the Middle East. But Houston will be the first to taste SkyH2O’s potentially globe-altering water.

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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.”