Who's who: These were the top 5 Houston energy transition interviews of 2023

Here were the top energy transition interviews on EnergyCapital — according to its readers. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, EnergyCapital is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston energy transition. EnergyCapital launched specifically to cover the energy transition community — and that includes the people who power it. With weekly interviews, we spoke to dozens of these individuals and some resonated more than others to readers. Be sure to click through to read the full interviews or stream the podcast episode.

Kelsey Hultberg, executive vice president of corporate communications and sustainability at Sunnova Energy

Kelsey Hultberg, executive vice president of corporate communications and sustainability at Sunnova Energy, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Sunnova

Several years ago, Kelsey Hultberg decided to make a pivot. Looking for a role with career growth opportunities, the communications professional thought she'd find something at an oil and gas company, but then she met John Berger, founder and CEO of Sunnova, who was looking for someone to stand up their communications team amidst the solar energy company's growth.

"He hooked me," Hultberg shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "He said, 'I've got big plans for this company. I see where this energy industry is going, I see that we're prime for a transition, and I want to take this company public.' And I started a few weeks later."

Hultberg has been telling the story for Sunnova — which equips customers with solar and storage technology, providing them with energy independence — ever since, through scaling, new technologies, and its IPO in 2019.

Continue reading the interview from October.

PJ Popovic, CEO and founder of Rhythm Energy

Houston-based Rhythm Energy CEO and founder, PJ Popovic, discusses the landscape of Texas' energy market and how renewables should be incorporated. Photo courtesy of Rhythm

After experiencing the hottest day on record this past Fourth of July, PJ Popovic — CEO and founder of green energy retailer Rhythm Energy — explained what extreme temperatures like these mean for Texas’ energy market and the role renewables will play in addressing increased demand response.

Headquartered in Houston, Rhythm Energy launched two years ago and offers a variety of 100 percent renewable energy backed plans, from wind to solar. Popovic discussed with EnergyCapital where he thinks renewables fit into Texas’ energy consumption and grid reliability issues in an interview.

Continue reading the interview from July.

Aniruddha Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Carbon Clean

Aniruddha Sharma of Carbon Clean weighs in on his North American expansion, the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act, and more. Photo via carbonclean.com

Earlier this year, a growing carbon capture company announced its new North American headquarters in Houston. Now, the company is focused on doubling it's headcount before the end of 2023 to meet demand.

Carbon Clean, which has a technology that has captured nearly two million tons of carbon dioxide at almost 50 sites around the world, opened its new office in the Ion earlier this year. The company is now building out its local supply chain with plans to rapidly expand.

In an interview with EnergyCapital, Co-Founder, Chair, and CEO Aniruddha Sharma weighs in on the new office, how pivotal the Inflation Reduction Act has been for his company's growth, and the future of Carbon Clean.

Continue reading the interview from August.

Vibhu Sharma, founder of InnoVent Renewables

Vibhu Sharma founded InnoVent Renewables to make a sustainable impact on tire waste. Photo courtesy

With over a billion cars currently on the road — each with four tires that will eventually end up discarded, one Houstonian is hoping to create the infrastructure to sustainably dispose of tire waste now and into the future.

Announced earlier this month, Vibhu Sharma founded InnoVent Renewables to establish production facilities that utilize a proprietary continuous pyrolysis technology that is able to convert waste tires, plastics, and biomass into fuels and chemicals.

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Sharma explains his plans to sustainably impact the tire waste space and his vision for his company.

Continue reading the interview from September.

Cindy Taff, founder and CEO of Sage Geosystems

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Cindy Taff of Sage Geosystems explains why she's so optimistic about geothermal and her company's technology. Photo courtesy of Sage

Geothermal energy is an integral part of decarbonizing the energy industry, and Sage Geosystems CEO Cindy Taff believes her company's tech has what it takes to lead the way.

Founded in Houston in 2020, Sage Geosystems is focused on two business lines — energy storage and geothermal. In addition to developing these technologies, Taff says Sage has "cracked the code" on both reducing costs and maximizing electricity output. Sage has customers ranging from Nabors, the world’s largest land-based drilling company, and Virya LLC, an investor in climate ventures with high impact of eliminating global greenhouse gas emissions or sequestering CO2

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, she explains why she's so optimistic about geothermal and her company's technology.

Continue reading the interview from December.

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A View From HETI

Tesla, based in Austin, has reported its biggest drop in sales in four years. Photo courtesy of Tesla

Tesla sales fell sharply last quarter as competition increased worldwide, electric vehicle sales growth slowed, and price cuts failed to lure more buyers.

The Texas company said Tuesday that it delivered 386,810 vehicles worldwide from January through March, almost 9% below the 423,000 it sold in the same quarter of last year. It was the first year-over-year quarterly sales decline in nearly four years.

Sales also fell short of even the most bearish Wall Street expectations. Auto industry analysts polled by FactSet were looking for 457,000 vehicle deliveries from Tesla Inc. That's a shortfall of more than 15%.

The company blamed the decline in part on phasing in an updated version of the Model 3 sedan at its Fremont, California, factory, plant shutdowns due to shipping diversions in the Red Sea, and an arson attack that knocked out power to its German factory.

But TD Cowen Analyst Jeffrey Osborne wrote in a note to investors that weaker March sales indicate that incentives, including discounts and a free trial of “Full Self Driving” software, “did not work as demand deteriorated.”

Despite the sales decline, Tesla was able to retake its global EV sales crown from China's BYD, which sold just over 300,000 electric vehicles during the quarter, Osborne wrote.

In its letter to investors in January, Tesla predicted “notably lower” sales growth this year. The letter said Tesla is between two big growth waves, one from global expansion of the Models 3 and Y, and a second coming from the Model 2, a new, smaller and less expensive vehicle with an unknown release date.

“This was an unmitigated disaster 1Q that is hard to explain away,” wrote Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush who has been very bullish on Tesla's stock. The drop in sales was far worse than expected, he wrote in a note to investors.

The quarter is a “seminal moment” in the Tesla growth story, Ives wrote, adding that CEO Elon Musk will have to turn the company around. “Otherwise, some darker days could clearly be ahead that could disrupt the long-term Tesla narrative.”

Ives maintained his Outperform rating on Tesla's shares and cut his one-year price target from $315 to $300. Ives estimated that China sales slid 3% to 4% during the period.

Shares of Tesla tumbled 4.9% to close Tuesday at $166.63, continuing an extended decline. Investors have shaved 33% off the value of the company so far this year, dumping shares after growing leery of the tremendous growth story that Tesla has been telling.

“Street criticism is warranted as growth has been sluggish and (profit) margins showing compression, with China a horror show and competition increasing from all angles,” Ives wrote.

Tesla dramatically lowered U.S. prices by up to $20,000 for some models last year. In March it temporarily knocked $1,000 off the Model Y, its top-selling vehicle. Those price cuts narrowed the company’s profit margins and spooked investors.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected the average selling price for Model Y to be $41,000 last quarter, $5,000 less than a year ago and $15,000 lower than the peak of $56,000 in June of 2022.

Tesla's sales numbers also pulled down shares of its U.S. EV competitors. Shares of Rivian fell 5.2%, while Lucid stock dropped 3.5% on Tuesday.

Deliveries of the Models 3 and Y, fell 10.3% year over year to 369,783. Sales of the company's other models, the aging X and S and the new Cybertruck, rose almost 60% to 17,027. Tesla produced 10.7% more vehicles than it sold during the first quarter.

Softer-than-expected first-quarter sales are reducing analyst expectations for Tesla's quarterly earnings ahead of their scheduled release on April 23.

Tesla’s sales come against the backdrop of a slowing market for electric vehicles in the U.S. EV sales grew 47% last year to a record 1.19 million as EV market share rose to 7.6%. But sales growth slowed toward the end of the year. In December, they rose 34%.

Updated EV sales numbers will come later Tuesday when most automakers report U.S. sales.

Other automakers also have had to cut electric vehicle production and reduce prices to move EVs off dealership lots. Ford, for instance, cut production of the F-150 Lightning electric pickup, and lopped up to $8,100 off the price of the Mustang Mach E electric SUV in order to sell 2023 models.

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