Houston innovators podcast episode 143
Houston founders aim to provide equity through energy resiliency
As temperatures climb and devastating natural disasters continue to test the power grid, two Houston innovators have a solution: Smart microgrids.
"Microgrids have been around for a very long time," Paresh Patel, co-founder of InnoGrid, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're primed here in Houston and in Texas to really see microgrids go mainstream. ... People want to see that they have control and are in charge of their own power."
Patel co-founded InnoGrid with Ed Pettitt and a few other collaborators following the 2020 Houston Climathon. The social enterprise is working to establish community microgrids in lower income areas — neighborhoods that are most at risk of devastating power outages.
"We want to convert the commercial microgrid model for low and moderate income and undresourced residential communities," Patel explains.
And there's never been a better time to shine a spotlight on microgrids as a solution to unreliable power systems, Pettitt says.
"We're dealing with massive inflation — costs are going up especially in food and energy," he explains on the show. "Even prior to this time of inflation, electricity prices in the US were expected to increase across the board. Hundreds of thousands of people right now today are being pushed below the poverty line because of increased energy costs. We need to be more creative in how we upgrade our infrastructure."
And the current grid system is well overdue for an upgrade. The microgrid system fits right in with the shared economy we live in today, Patel says, and it allows for more generation of energy that is decentralized, digitalized, decarbonized, and democratized — the four Ds as he says.
"When you consider our current grid system, it is a vestige of the industrial revolution — it's 140 years old. That business model is ripe for innovation," Patel says.
"We need to accelerate deployment of microgrid models," he continues. "I don't think we can afford to update our current grid system — it'll cost $2 trillion."
Most importantly, these microgrids need to be implemented in an equitable way, the founders say, and InnoGrid has its eyes on one Houston area in particular. The Innovation Corridor, which spans from the Texas Medical Center to Downtown Houston, would be the ideal region to deploy the technology.
"If you look at the innovation corridor, it forms the spine of the city. You have so many important municipal buildings, first-responding organizations, and a large amount of affordable housing in the area. There's critical resources here that we want to make sure the lights stay on in power disasters," Pettit says. "One of the things we believe at InnoGrid is that where you live shouldn't determine whether or not you survive a national weather event. We want to make sure we provide energy stability in the communities that need it most."
To make this dream into a reality, InnoGrid needs the right partnerships and support in the area — and the founders have made progress. InnoGrid recently participated in the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator and has a relationship with Greentown Houston across the street.
Eventually, as Pettit says, InnoGrid wants to help lead Houston to becoming a hub for microgrid innovation.
"We're looking at other cities — like Chicago and Boston — and how they've deployed their microgrids and making sure we're bringing those best practices in Houston," Pettit says. "Eventually we want to be the leader in developing these microgrid best practices as the energy capital of the world."
Patel and Pettitt share more about InnoGrid and microgrid technology on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.