Guest column

Experts: Houston can win in the energy transition — here's how

Perhaps more than any major city in America, Houston faces fundamental questions about its economy and its future in the global Energy Transition. Photo via Getty Images

President Joe Biden recently announced his 2030 goal for the United States to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its 2005 levels. This announcement comes on the heels of the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure and climate-response program which offers a host of energy- and climate change-related initiatives, including a plan to speed up the conversion of the country to carbon-free electricity generation by 2035.

To reach these goals, companies of all industries are looking to implement clean energy investments and practices and do so quickly. Perhaps more than any major city in America, Houston faces fundamental questions about its economy and its future in the global Energy Transition. Some 4,600 energy companies, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, serve as the foundation of the city's economy.

While many of these are working in the renewables space, the vast majority are rooted in fossil fuels. Many in Houston have long been anticipating this move towards renewables, but the new executive position on emissions has brought renewed pressure on Houston to take action and put investments behind securing its position as the Energy Capital of the World.

Houston's energy transition status

There has been an uptick in Energy Transition activity in Houston over the past several years. Currently, Houston boasts at least 100 solar energy-related companies and 30 wind energy-related companies. Environmental Entrepreneurs ranked Houston seventh among the top 50 U.S. metro areas for clean energy employment in the fourth quarter of 2019, with 1.9 percent of all clean energy jobs in the U.S. In 2019, Houston had 56,155 clean energy jobs, up nearly 4 percent from 2018, according to E2. However, by comparison, there are roughly 250,000 fossil fuel jobs in the area. (S&P Global)


Many traditional oil and gas companies have embraced this change, pivoting to more sustainable and resilient energy solutions. Companies working in tangentially related industries, like finance, infrastructure and services, are beginning to understand their role in the Energy Transition as well.

The challenge

While the Bayou City's proximity to the bay and natural oil supply may have set the scene for Houston's Energy Capital Status, the same geographic advantages do not exist in this new renewable space. As many have already begun to realize – Houston companies must make a concerted and timely effort to expend their focus to include renewables.

Greater Houston Partnership recently launched a new initiative aimed at accelerating Houston's activity around energy transition, while existing committees will continue efforts to bring energy tech and renewable energy companies to Houston. This initiative will bolster Houston's smart city efforts, explore the policy dimensions of carbon capture, use, and storage, and advocate for legislation that helps ensure the Texas Gulf Coast is positioned as a leader in that technology.

The Partnership estimates the city has seen $3.7 billion dollars of cleantech venture funding in recent years. Still, the infrastructure and services sector of the Energy Transition is vastly underinvested in, especially when compared to the tens of billions in the more traditional sector.

The opportunity

Houston, and the energy markets specifically, have always been great at raising capital and deploying it. The energy companies and capital needed to support them will continue to be in Houston as the energy markets transition to renewable sources in addition to fossil fuels.

The job opportunities in Houston and new energy are going to be significant. Texas is well suited to fit these needs as the technical skillset from fossil fuels to renewables is highly transferable. Given the technical expertise needed to manage energy—whether it's oil, gas or renewables—Houston and Texas will always have the universities here that feed the technical skills needed in energy.

Houston has always done a great job at attracting energy companies and related businesses to move their headquarters here or open and office in the area. Additionally, offering proper training opportunities for both oil and gas and renewable energy jobs has a proven track record of spurring growth and attracting talent to our area.

All of this, combined with a concerted effort from investors willing to double down on the sectors of solar, storage, electric vehicles and energy management sectors are critical. With swifter growth for jobs in the renewable space and incentivization of the next generation of energy companies, Houston can forge a clear path towards the "New Energy Capital of the World."

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Eric Danziger and Jordan Frugé are managing directors at Houston-based Riverbend Energy Group.

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Building Houston

 
 

Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center, gave the keynote address at this year's State of Space event. Screenshot via houston.org

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

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