Plus Power, which recently relocated its HQ to Houston, has moved into a larger office space. Image via cushmanwakefield.com

A Northern California-born energy storage startup has established its headquarters in The Woodlands.

Plus Power, which develops battery systems designed to store backup power for electric grids, recently signed a lease for nearly 7,000 square feet at Three Hughes Landing in The Woodlands. The company previously was based in coworking space at the Rayford Office Park in Spring.

The company, founded in 2018, shifted its headquarters from San Francisco to the Houston area last year.

“We chose The Woodlands for its beauty, and walkable access to great nearby hotels, restaurants, and healthy groceries,” says Brandon Keefe, CEO of Plus Power. “A Houston base reflects our deep focus on the Texas market, as we are investing nearly $1 billion in several projects here that will be online by the first quarter of 2024, with more in [the works] behind that.”

About 40 employees work from Plus Power’s new office in The Woodlands. Across North America, the company employs about 130 people, including several in Austin. As of July 10, the startup listed nine job openings.

Plus Power develops, owns, and operates utility-scale systems that store energy in huge lithium-ion batteries during low-demand periods. In times of peak demand, power providers can tap into this stored energy.

“Standalone energy storage is rapidly transforming the U.S. energy markets, because it is cheaper than new natural gas plants, faster to build than fossil peakers or transmission, and able to perform diverse energy services,” the company explains in its job postings.

Peakers are backup power plants that run on fossil fuels.

One of Plus Power’s storage facilities is the 100-megawatt Gambit project, which opened two years ago in Angleton. The nearly eight-acre facility supports power supplies for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs the power grid for 90 percent of Texas.

The company says the Angleton facility has fed backup energy to ERCOT during this year’s and last year’s heatwaves, as well as last December’s winter freeze.

The Gambit facility might ring a bell with some folks in the Houston area. In January 2022, Austin-based automaker Tesla unveiled a backup power storage facility in Angleton. Plus Power bought the project from Tesla in June 2022.

Plus Power’s development pipeline contains 10 gigawatts’ worth of energy storage projects in 28 states and Canada. That includes massive projects on tap for Hawaii and Arizona.

Last November, Plus Power announced it had secured $219 million in debt financing for construction of the 185-megawatt Kapolei project on a roughly eight-acre site in Oahu, Hawaii. The facility will be tied to Hawaiian Electric’s power grid. Mizuho Securities USA and KeyBank led the financing.

This April, Plus Power held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Sierra Estrella project in Tolleson, a Phoenix suburb. The 250-megawatt system will serve Salt River Project (SRP), a utility provider in the Phoenix area. The roughly 11-acre Tolleson facility is set to open next year, as is another Plus Power project for SRP — the 90-megawatt Superstition facility in Gilbert, another Phoenix suburb.

As its development pipeline demonstrates, Plus Power is firmly plugged into the fast-growing energy storage market.

According to the Houston-based energy research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie and the American Clean Power Association, the U.S. energy storage market installed a record-breaking 4.8 gigawatts of capacity in 2022. This year, that number is projected to approach 75 gigawatts.

In a March 2023 news release, John Hensley, the clean power group’s vice president of research and analytics, says the U.S. market “is on a rapid growth curve and is already a key component of building a resilient grid that supports abundant clean energy.”

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Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”