Houston has what it takes to be a leading energy tech hub, says expert
As the energy capital of the world, Houston has been a long-time leader in the energy industry, particularly oil and gas. With cutting-edge research and technological breakthroughs, unique talent of energy veterans and engineering know-how, the city is swiftly developing into a booming energy technology hub.
Houston’s R&D, talent pool, energy infrastructure, and favorable business environment is fostering the growth of technology-driven energy initiatives. These factors differentiate Houston's energy tech ecosystem from other tech hubs in the U.S., in similar ways to how Silicon Valley has been known for technology and software and Boston and New York for biotech and fintech ecosystems, respectively.
Primarily, Houston's proximity to major energy players has played a crucial role in its evolution as an energy technology hub. Around 34 percent of all publicly traded oil and gas companies in the U.S. are headquartered in the city. Even the energy companies that are headquartered outside of Houston (e.g., Exelon, Duke Energy, and NextEra Energy) have established their energy transition headquarters and plants/infrastructure here. This proximity enables energy technology startups easy access to market, expertise, resources, and funding, fostering a vibrant ecosystem that supports their growth.
Moreover, with an expanding network of academic and commercial R&D activity, the city has become a rising hub of technological development. It currently houses more than 21 business research centers focusing on various aspects related to energy transition through design, prototype, and applied intelligence studios.
For instance, the Greater Houston Partnership, a key organization in promoting Houston’s economic growth, has been actively involved in positioning the city as a leader in the global energy transition space. Some of the notable green energy startups leading Houston’s energy transition are Sunnova, Solugen, Fervo Energy, Syzygy Plasmonics, Ionada, and Energy Transition Ventures.
The emergence of startup development organizations throughout the city, including workplaces, incubators, and accelerators, in recent years has fostered collaboration among founders, investors, and talent, thereby accelerating the rate of business formation and growth. Accelerators and incubators such as Halliburton Labs, Greentown Labs, The Ion District, and Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator are key supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship in Houston’s energy technology landscape.
In addition, government funding is catalyzing Houston’s growth in energy tech. Most prominently, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is likely to stimulate greater investment in solar and wind energy, charging infrastructure, and electric vehicles in Houston. It will support the city’s R&D institutions and technology developers in pioneering energy transition for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCS/CCUS), hydrogen, and renewable fuels, resulting in a 13-fold increase in capital expenditure for infrastructure between 2024 and 2035.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) also focus on promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies, many of which are coming out of Houston.
Further, Houston has a strong talent pool with a workforce of three million individuals and the fourth largest concentration of engineers in the US. In 2022, the growth rate of tech employment in the region was 3.5 percent while the national growth rate was 3.2 percent.
The energy industry, research institutions, and government are coming together in Houston to propel it to become a leader in energy technology. However, the city still has a ways to go: Houston needs to build more in non-traditional energy sectors (e.g. wind, solar, etc.), attract more entrepreneurs to start companies here, and get more investors to invest here. Having successful energy tech exits and reinvestment in new startups here would help.
Houston has tremendous potential to lead energy technology, and with the rapidly growing focus of research, businesses, and government policies on energy transition. The confluence of energy tech players coming together in Houston is driving its evolution as an energy tech hub, making it an exciting place for new technologies and businesses to develop and grow, and reinvest in Houston.
Michael Torosian is a partner in the corporate practice in the San Francisco office of Baker Botts. He is outside general counsel to emerging companies and their investors and advisors at all stages.