Urban Harvest is now using solar energy to bring its produce around Houston — and other top nonprofit stories on EnergyCapital this year. Photo courtesy of Andrew Hemingway/Urban Harvest

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, EnergyCapital is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston energy transition. While the responsibility of moving the needle on sustainability doesn't always fall to the shoulders of nonprofit organizations, five of the sector's top news stories from this year resonated with readers — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Nonprofit harvests solar energy to serve Houston's food deserts

Sustainable nonprofit Urban Harvest has upgraded to use solar energy. Photo courtesy Andrew Hemingway/Urban Harvest

Houston nonprofit Urban Harvest is plugging into the power of solar energy.

The nonprofit’s Mobile Market program has added a custom-designed, solar-equipped trailer to its fleet. The market provides fresh locally sourced food to “food deserts.”

“By harnessing the sun’s energy, the trailer can become a self-sustaining unit, eliminating reliance on conventional power sources for a substantial period of time,” says Urban Harvest.

The trailer consists of a Ford F150 hybrid truck with a custom-designed trailer that’s equipped with solar power capabilities. The unit enables Urban Harvest to store and transport nearly $5,000 worth of fresh produce and goods to support the Mobile Market program, which serves an average of 1,200 customers each month. Click here to continue reading article from September.

Green jobs accelerator to launch to Houston, other cities with corporate and nonprofit partnership

The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator is a partnership between Goodwill and Accenture that will equip participants with employability and technical skills for entry-level jobs across the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

A major nonprofit and a worldwide corporate leader have teamed up to advance clean tech jobs.

The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator is a partnership between Goodwill and Accenture that will equip participants with employability and technical skills for entry-level jobs across solar and storage, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and energy efficiency, according to a news release from the organizations.

The program launch next year in Houston, as well as in Atlanta, Nashville, and Detroit, as the two organizations announced in at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Talent Forward event. According to Accenture and Goodwill, the plan is to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers. Click here to continue reading article from October.

Houston-based Baker Hughes pledges $175,000 to nonprofits with diversity-focused initiatives

Baker Hughes has made two grants to nonprofits looking to support a diverse workforce. Photo via bakerhughes.com

The nonprofit arm of a Houston-based energy company has made two grants into organizations focused on supplier diversity.

Earlier this week, the Baker Hughes Foundation revealed details on a $75,000 grant to Houston Minority Supplier Development Council, or HMSDC, and a $100,000 grant to Washington, D.C.-based WEConnect International. HMSDC supports economic growth of minority-owned businesses, and WEConnect International is focused on women-owned companies.

“At Baker Hughes, supplier diversity is integral to our success, and it is our duty to support organizations that fuel building a more inclusive supply base and take the steps necessary to ensure business practices mirror our diverse landscape,” Lynn Buckley, Supplier Diversity and Business Development Sourcing leader, says in a news release. Click here to continue reading article from September.

Houston-area teen wins prestigious award for sustainable gardening initiative

A Pearland student's hydroponic gardening nonprofit is increasing sustainability efforts at local schools. Photo via Getty Images

At only 16 years old, Pearland student Rahul Vijayan has been named a winner of a prestigious award.

The 2023 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes recognizes 25 young leaders "who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment," reads the news release. Additionally, 15 of the top winners each receive $10,000 toward their education or service work.

Vijayan created Farm to Tray, a nonprofit that equips schools with hydroponic gardening systems, which can grow fresh produce for school lunch programs. Since he started his initiative, he has distributed over 150 hydroponic grow kits to 23 schools across five districts.

“I want to influence and improve children’s day-to-day lives,” says Rahul. “Farm to Tray is allowing me to do that and make a tangible impact for thousands of students.” Click here to continue reading article from September.


Houston utility provider gifts $100,000 for energy-efficient upgrades in Galveston

Galveston residents spend 14 percent more a month on electricity, and CenterPoint stepped in to help shrink that gap. Photo courtesy of Vision Galveston

As Texas bakes in scorching summertime heat, a new program has been rolled out in Galveston to provide free energy-efficiency upgrades of homes.

The program, a collaboration between the nonprofit Vision Galveston and Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, is designed to reduce energy consumption and cut utility bills through projects like HVAC tune-ups, as well as installation of ceiling insulation, LED light bulbs, solar screens, and low-flow showerheads.

The program launched July 13 with three CenterPoint customers, all residents of Galveston’s Old Central Carver Park neighborhood, receiving energy-efficiency upgrades. Click here to continue reading article from July.

Sustainable nonprofit Urban Harvest has upgraded to use solar energy. Photo courtesy Andrew Hemingway/Urban Harvest

Nonprofit harvests solar energy to serve Houston's food deserts

low-carbon nutrients

Houston nonprofit Urban Harvest is plugging into the power of solar energy.

The nonprofit’s Mobile Market program has added a custom-designed, solar-equipped trailer to its fleet. The market provides fresh locally sourced food to “food deserts.”

“By harnessing the sun’s energy, the trailer can become a self-sustaining unit, eliminating reliance on conventional power sources for a substantial period of time,” says Urban Harvest.

The trailer consists of a Ford F150 hybrid truck with a custom-designed trailer that’s equipped with solar power capabilities. The unit enables Urban Harvest to store and transport nearly $5,000 worth of fresh produce and goods to support the Mobile Market program, which serves an average of 1,200 customers each month.

Urban Harvest is now using solar energy to bring its produce around Houston. Photo courtesy Andrew Hemingway/Urban Harvest

The trailer’s three refrigerators and one deep freezer are entirely powered by solar energy.

“During Hurricane Harvey, we witnessed the devastating impact of disrupted food supply chains, leaving farmers unable to transport and store their produce. We knew there had to be a better way,” says George Hixson, Mobile Market manager for Urban Harvest. “Our solar-powered trailer and F150 hybrid is a game-changer, addressing not only efficiency but also disaster relief and community engagement.”

Urban Harvest foresees expanding the solar concept.

“There was little to no access to local produce during Hurricane Harvey due to crops being flooded out during the storm. This vehicle will allow us to assist farmers in these types of situations getting crops out of the field and into neighborhoods where there is no fresh produce,” says Janna Roberson, executive director of Urban Harvest.

Urban Harvest provides farmers markets, community garden programming, gardening classes, and youth education.

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Houston startup taps new corporate partner for AI-backed sustainability consumer tech

out of the boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston software company to manage IRA compliance for solar, storage company with national presence

tapping into tech

Houston company's Inflation Reduction Act compliance management software has scored a new partner.

Empact Technologies announced a multi-year agreement with Ampliform, which originates, builds, develops, and operates utility-scale solar and solar plus storage projects. The Empact platform uses a combination of software and services to ensure projects meet IRS regulatory requirements, which focus on wage and apprenticeship, domestic content, and energy and low-income community incentives. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed

Empact will partner specifically with Ampliform’s project Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) firms, subcontractors, and key suppliers of steel and iron products. In addition, they will work through a project’s life cycle for EPC’s solar modules, trackers, and inverters to manage prevailing wage & apprenticeship, domestic content, and other tax incentive qualification and compliance.

“The team at Ampliform had the leadership and foresight to recognize the significant risks of IRA non-compliance and the need to have third party compliance management in place prior to construction kick-off," Charles Dauber, CEO and founder of Empact, says in a news release. We look forward to helping Ampliform fully leverage the IRA tax incentives to develop and build their project development pipeline.”

Ampliform has approximately 700MW of projects in short-term development. Ampliform also plans 3GW of projects in its development pipeline. Ampliform’s future expansion plans exceed more than 13GWdc in total. Empact will manage the IRA compliance for these projects. According to a Goldman Sachs report, the IRA is estimated to provide $1.2 trillion of incentives by 2032.