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

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.

UH Professor Vedhus Hoskere received a three-year, $505,286 grant from TxDOT for a bridge digitization project. Photo via uh.edu

Houston researcher earns $500,000 grant to tap into digital twin tech for bridge safety

transportation

A University of Houston professor has received a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how bridges are inspected in the state.

The $505,286 grant will support the project of Vedhus Hoskere, assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, over three years. The project, “Development of Digital Twins for Texas Bridges,” will look at how to use drones, cameras, sensors and AI to support Texas' bridge maintenance programs.

“To put this data in context, we create a 3D digital representation of these bridges, called digital twins,” Hoskere said in a statement. “Then, we use artificial intelligence methods to help us find and quantify problems to be concerned about. We’re particularly interested in any structural problems that we can identify - these digital twins help us monitor changes over time and keep a close eye on the bridge. The digital twins can be tremendously useful for the planning and management of our aging bridge infrastructure so that limited taxpayer resources are properly utilized.”

The project began in September and will continue through August 2026. Hoskere is joined on the project by Craig Glennie, the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Chair at Cullen College and director of the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, as the project’s co-principal investigator.

According to Hoskere, the project will have implications for Texas's 55,000 bridges (more than twice as many as any other state in the country), which need to be inspected every two years.

Outside of Texas, Hoskere says the project will have international impact on digital twin research. Hoskere chairs a sub-task group of the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE).

“Our international efforts align closely with this project’s goals and the insights gained globally will enhance our work in Texas while our research at UH contributes to advancing bridge digitization worldwide,” he said. “We have been researching developing digital twins for inspections and management of various infrastructure assets over the past 8 years. This project provides us an opportunity to leverage our expertise to help TxDOT achieve their goals while also advancing the science and practice of better developing these digital twins.”

Last year another UH team earned a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a practical, Texas-focused project that uses AI. The team was backed by the NSF's Convergence Accelerator for its project to help food-insecure Texans and eliminate inefficiencies within the food charity system.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.
David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E, joins the Houston Innovator Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Why this organization is focused on cultivating the future of energy transition innovation

Q&A

David Pruner is laser focused on the future workforce for the energy industry as executive director of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, a nonprofit housed out of Greentown Labs that was established to support energy transition innovation at Texas universities.

TEX-E launched in 2022 in collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five university partners — Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Pruner was officially named to his role earlier this year, but he's been working behind the scenes for months now getting to know the organization and already expanding its opportunities from students across the state at the five institutions.

"Our mission is to create the next generation of energy transition climatetech entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs — they don’t all have to start companies," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Listen to the show below and read through a brief excerpt from the episode with Pruner.


EnergyCapital: Can you share a little bit about the origin of TEX-E?

David Puner: There were a variety of factories that led to its creation, but the seminal event was a piece of work that had been done for the Greater Houston Partnership by McKinsey on the future of Houston. It showed that if Houston isn't careful and doesn't make sure to go ahead and transition with this energy expansion we’re seeing, that they’re at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. If they catch the transition right and make the conversion to cleaner and low-carbon fuels, they can actually gain 1.4 million jobs.

It was this eye opener for everyone that we need to make sure that if the energy transition is going to happen, it needs to happen here so that Houston stays the energy capital of the world.

David Baldwin (partner at SCF Partners) literally at the meeting said, “listen I've got the beginning of the funnel — the universities, that’s where innovation comes from.” From that, TEX-E was born.

EC: How are you working with the five founding universities to connect the dots for collaboration?

DP: In the end, we have five different family members who need to be coordinated differently. The idea behind TEX-E is that there's plenty of bright students at each of these schools, and there's plenty of innovation going on, it's whether it can grow, prosper, and be sustainable.

Our main job is to look to connect everyone, so that an engineer at Texas A&M that has an idea that they want to pursue, but they don't know the business side, can meet that Rice MBA. Then, when they realize it's going to be a highly regulated product, we need a regulatory lawyer at UT — we can make all that happen and connect them.

At the same time, what we found is, no one school has the answer. But when you put them together, we do have most of the answer. Almost everything we need is within those five schools. And it's not just those five schools, it really is open to everyone.

EC: As you mentioned before, TEX-E started as a way for Houston to take the reins of its energy transition. What's the pulse on that progress?

DP: I spent the last decade building boards and hiring CEOs for all kinds of energy companies and there was the period I would say — pre-pandemic and a little bit into the pandemic — where not everybody was on board with climate change and the issue of carbon. The nice thing now is that’s fully in the rearview mirror. There’s not really a company of any size or a management team of any major entity that doesn’t fully believe they need to do something there.

The train has fully left the station — and picked up speed — on this whole issue of transition and climate. So, that’s been nice to see and create a lot of tailwinds.

UH's Jian Shi recently received the NSF's CAREER award, which will dole out $500,861 in funding through February 2029. Photo via UH.edu

Houston researcher scores $500,000 award to continue on work on energy transition

zeroing in on zero emissions

A University of Houston professor and researcher is laser focused on his work within the energy transition, and National Science Foundation has taken note, awarding him over half a million dollars in funding.

Jian Shi, an assistant professor within the Cullen College of Engineering, recently received the NSF's CAREER award, which will dole out $500,861 in funding through February 2029.

The award was granted for his research, entitled “A Unified Zero-Carbon-Driven Design Framework for Accelerating Power Grid Deep Decarbonization.”

“One of the most major challenges inherent in energy transition is the cost. While reducing carbon emissions serves the best interest of society in the long run, the short-term financial burdens also need to be carefully evaluated to ensure that we have a safe, affordable, reliable and just transition for all,” Shi says in a UH news release. “This challenge has inspired me to work on the innovative framework of “ZERO-Accelerator.”

Shi's ZERO-Accelerator is focused on taking standard carbon-driven tools and integrating them into current power grid operational practices. Shi is the director and founder of SOAR, or the Smart and ZerO-Carbon Energy Analytics and Research Lab.

“It synthesizes interactions from multiple key stakeholders involved in the electricity ecosystem,” says Shi. “The framework considers how to manage carbon allowance allocation and trading for electricity producers, how to maintain a 24/7 zero-carbon power grid for power grid operators and how to enable consumers to understand their carbon footprint and participate in the zero-carbon grid operation.”

In his CAREER proposal, Shi explains that he is also contributing to training the future energy workforce. He adds that he shares this award with his colleagues.

“I believe no accomplishment is truly individual,” he says. “Rather, it is a collective triumph achieved through collaboration, support and shared dedication. As I reflect on the milestones I've reached, I am compelled to express my deepest gratitude to my esteemed colleagues whose unwavering commitment has been instrumental in not just my collective success, but our collective success as well."

Last summer, Shi mentored a UH team in the inaugural American-Made Carbon Management Collegiate Competition, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. The team, GreenHouston, took third place in the competition, securing a $5,000 cash prize.

Teams from three Houston-area universities have been named to the DOE's annual competition. Photo via energy.gov

DOE taps 3 Houston-area schools for student competition

game on

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions selected 225 teams from 117 schools from 39 states — including three Houston-area universities — to participate in its annual startup competition.

University of Houston, Rice University, and Texas A&M University will compete in the EnergyTech University Prize, known as EnergyTech UP, in the 2024 Student Track. See the full list here.

The EnergyTech UP Student Track tasks collegiate teams to develop “actionable plans for business and commercialization opportunities around high-potential energy technologies.”

The competitors in the event, which is in its third year, will also receive free access to OTT’s Energy I-Corps curriculum. Finalists will receive mentorship from industry leaders on their proposals. Through three phases — Explore, Refine, and Pitch — with Bonus Prize winners also being selected along the way, the teams will compete for more than $400,000 in cash prizes.

Teams will present their proposals to a panel of judges in the hopes of being selected as a finalist in the first phase, the regional Explore Event.

Finalists will refine their ideas before pitching their complete plans at Zpryme’s 2024 Energy Thought Summit in April in Austin, Texas. The goal is for EnergyTech UP’s winning teams to have successfully identified promising energy technology, carefully assess its market potential, and create a business plan.

“We see immense value in supporting the next generation of clean energy leaders through EnergyTech UP” said DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT, Dr. Vanessa Z. Chan in a news release. “These teams are working to develop attainable, equitable, scalable energy technologies and business opportunities. They have the potential to profoundly impact the cleantech industry, and we’re proud to provide resources that can help bolster their ideas.”

Other Texas universities selected this year include:

  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • The University of Texas at El Paso
  • Texas Tech University
David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E. Photo via LinkedIn

New leadership team named climate tech-focused organization for Texas college students

welcome aboard

A collaborative initiative between several colleges and Greentown Labs has named its inaugural executive director.

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, which is comprised of partners including Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas. Additionally, Julia Johansson was appointed chief of staff for TEX-E and will oversee operations and administration responsibilities.

“Dave is the ideal leader for TEX-E to build on the great work that’s been done to develop a robust entrepreneurial energy ecosystem across these five impressive universities in Texas and to directly inspire and support university students to pursue entrepreneurial careers that will power our clean energy future,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “Dave’s expertise will have a tremendous impact on the strategy, evolution, and success of this ambitious and important program.”With over 30 years of experience within the energy, academic, and business worlds, Pruner will take the helm of the organization that launched in 2022 in collaboration with Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin as its founding institutions.

“I am very excited about helping Houston and the state of Texas navigate the energy transition,” Pruner says in the release. “We are at a crucial pivot point for the industry and it will be essential for us to help create the next generation of energy transition entrepreneurs.

"An ecosystem in this area has been building and it will be our mission to inspire, equip, connect and accelerate these individuals and teams working with the universities to make it robust," he continues. "If we succeed we will assure Texas’s role as the leader in energy globally.”

Before this new role, Pruner held leadership positions at business management consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles and Wood Mackenzie, as well as other energy firms and in financial services companies including Bridgewater Associates and Manufacturers Hanover Trust.

The two new hires are based out of Greentown Labs Houston. The next role TEX-E hopes to fill is director of university engagement, which will lead programming, recruitment, and partner management for TEX-E.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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Houston-based energy storage fintech platform founder targets new market key to transition

ready to grow

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things."

Konet says she was bullish on the energy storage side of things when she was an early hire at Key Capture Energy, a private equity-backed energy storage project developer. The issue with energy storage projects, as Konet describes, is they aren't being monetized properly and, in some cases, aren't sustainable and increasing emissions.

"The product we're building is solving these problems. It's a financial product, but what it's doing is solving a market deficiency," she says. "We're sending the right signal to the battery to operate in a way that reduces emissions, and then we're paying them for it because there's a demand to decarbonize."

For over a year, Konet, as co-founder and CTO, has worked on the platform, which is essentially a marketplace for corporates to buy carbon offsets, incentifying and monetizing storage projects.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Tierra Climate is technology agnostic, so while the company is seeing activity in the battery space, they can also work with other types of storage — like hydrogen, pumped water, and more. Konet says her ideal customers are companies with money and interest in playing a role in the energy transition and looking to offset their scope two and three emissions.

"The ultimate vision for our company is for this to be an accessible product that has a high degree of integrity that small to very large companies can execute on, because it's a pay-per-performance mechanism that doesn't lock companies into a really large contract," she says. "It's really scalable."

This year, she says the company, which won fourth place in the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition, is focused on securing its first big contract and fundraising for its seed round.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston energy tech entrepreneur on if 'ESG' is a dirty word

guest column

Whose responsibility is it to care for the social good? That’s an important, yet hopelessly complex question, particularly when aimed at sustainability.

When it comes to businesses and other profit-seeking firms, they tend to search for a balance between success today and success overtime. Too much focus in either direction can be deadly.

An apt analogy is a virus: too much reproduction too fast and the host dies, which is why the most successful viruses find the threshold for maximizing reproduction without overly weakening the host.

Payment is about to be due, but from whom?

The ESG movement encapsulates targets from ethical investing related to environmental issues, social values and corporate governance. As it relates to climate, people are working hard to determine how much cumulative effect of human activity is too much for our survival. And there continues to be open questions about how businesses should react to the scientific consensus that climate conditions will continue getting worse, without immediate and severe corrective action. If the consensus is that this is a problem for businesses to fix, whose money do they spend to do it?

Greed was good, once

Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman famously advocated for firms to focus primarily on returning value to shareholders. With respect to social good, he advocated that shareholders use their returns to pursue them; businesses should just chase profit. His 1970 article in the New York Times Magazine is worth a read, particularly his last paragraph, where he observes that corporate dollars spent advancing social responsibility represent the theft of money from investors, customers, or employees. The challenge is, how many negative externalities do we absorb before seeking to redirect corporate profits?

Making impact be part of the analysis

Others have argued that firms have a social responsibility and should pursue, using the term John Elkington coined in 1994, a triple bottom line approach, focusing on profit, people, and planet. Adherents to this approach believe you only get what you measure, and therefore,businesses should measure more than just profit. The challenge is, who is smart enough to balance these accounts?

ESG to the rescue?

The term ESG itself was the result of good intentioned actors in the investment space who wanted to track the efficacy of investing in businesses that scored well for social responsibility. They theorized, and had some support, that these companies outperformed the market. The result was the formation of the Principles for Responsible Investment in 2013, with its six core principles for “incorporating ESG issues into investment practice.”

ESG has certainly come a long way from Milton Friendmen, though it’s challenging to say how the movement is going. From one perspective, it looks like everyone is in trouble. Banks for investing in companies who are not moving fast enough. Energy companies and other producers of consumer products for greenwashing their efforts. Private equity firms for forcing ESG standards that some view as a step-too-far. Financial service companies for assisting in greenwashing. And, of course, the worst offenders are “the woke.” From the other perspective, we are finally starting to see some incentives for companies to address and solve long-ignored problems.

One size fits no one

The question of “Who is responsible for ESG?” reminds me of a presentation I attended in spring 2022, given by a senior executive of a large landfill operator. Before he began his discussion of the environmental impacts of operating a landfill, he noted that his billion dollar company did not really create any trash, it simply collected and received trash from all of us! He was begging the question, “Am I solely responsible for your bad decisions?”

And that’s really the issue with ESG, is it not? Who, for example, is responsible for creating pollution? The energy companies for producing oil and natural gas from underground reserves, or the members of the public who drive cars, buy plastic goods, and flip on the lights? The government for letting those things happen? The answer is sadly both none of us and all of us.

Regulators, mount up

Regulating and investing are often in conflict, but they share one common characteristic: few people have ever done either well. That doesn’t mean we quit trying. There are those among us who can find the signal in the noise, who can stare at a pile of numbers and find the rule that answers the question, or at least correlates well to the desired outcome.

People change expensive behaviors

Charlie Munger famously said, “Show me the incentive, and I’ll show you the outcome.” If I had a magic wand, I would want the power to create global markets for the right to release harmful pollutants / emissions or deposit certain types of waste in landfills. It has worked before, and it will likely be what leads us where we need to go. Until we create marketplaces limiting the release of pollutants and disposal of waste, society will continue to fall prey to complex regulatory solutions that are easy for incumbent industries to strike down. Instead, putting a price on these activities will allow the incumbents to innovate and new companies to compete.

When it comes to ESG, I think we fear two outcomes equally: a world that feels a little out of control and a class of people, or institutions of government, who appear all too confident they have the answers. Maybe we can turn the heat down in the ESG debate by prioritizing what we measure and report and creating marketplaces that incentivize people to solve the most pressing problems.

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Chris Wood is the co-founder of Houston-based Moonshot Compost.

Houston investor launches energy transition venture studio to help elevate early-stage hardtech startups

money moves

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.