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New report shows that Houston and Texas are making strides in wind energy

The report indicates the Lone Star State is home to roughly one-fourth of all U.S. wind power production. Getty Images

With over 4,600 energy-related businesses employing more than 237,000 people, Houston has earned recognition as the "Energy Capital of the World." But when people think of Houston's energy sector, oil and gas almost automatically come to mind, given that about one-third of the publicly traded oil and gas companies in the U.S. are based in the Houston area.

Yet wind energy is making inroads in Houston. Susan Davenport, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, says more than 30 companies in the Houston area operate in the wind energy sector.

"Houston is actively working to grow this sector, so we hope people will seriously think of Houston when they think of renewables in this new era of energy," Davenport says at an April 9 news conference in Houston where the American Wind Energy Association released its 2018 state-of-the-industry report.

That's not to say, though, that Houston is ready to cede its dominance in the oil and gas sector.

"Houston has long held the title of 'Energy Capital of the World,' and we fully intend to maintain that status," Davenport says. "As global energy forecasts continue to show an ever-increasing need for energy, we know oil and gas will be critical for years to come. But at the same time, as that energy mix gets larger, we know an increasing share of energy will come from renewables. And we're already capturing a sizable share [of that market]."

That sizable market share includes venture capital. Of the $5.2 billion in venture capital reeled in by Houston businesses from 2015 to 2017, renewable energy accounted for more than 35 percent, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

Davenport said Houston is "uniquely suited" to support companies involved in wind energy and other types of renewable energy, thanks to its deep pool of energy-oriented talent.

The American Wind Energy Association's annual report for 2018 shows the wind energy sector employs between 25,000 and 26,000 people in Houston and elsewhere in Texas, up from 24,000 to 25,000 in 2017, with the total investment in Texas wind energy projects sitting at a whopping $46.5 billion. More than one-fifth of wind energy jobs in the U.S. are located in Texas.

In employment, investment, and several other categories, Texas rules as the undisputed leader of the U.S. wind energy industry.

"The success story in Texas continues," says Susan Williams Sloan, the Austin-based vice president of state policy for the American Wind Energy Association.

The report indicates the Lone Star State is home to roughly one-fourth of all U.S. wind power production. If Texas were a country, the wind energy group says, it would rank fifth in the world for wind power capacity, with nearly 25,000 megawatts installed. And with nearly 7,000 megawatts of wind energy projects under construction or development at the end of 2018, Texas is adding more wind energy capacity than what all but two other states actually have installed.

At of the end of 2018, nearly 13,400 wind turbines dotted the state's landscape, mostly in West Texas.

It's not just utilities that are fueling the growth of wind power in Texas. The association calls Texas the "nexus" for non-utility demand for wind power.

Today, 38 non-utility companies have bought or are planning to buy 4,900 megawatts of wind energy in Texas, including Shell Energy, AT&T, Budweiser, ExxonMobil, and Walmart, according to the association.

"Texas continues to lead the nation, with hard work and ingenuity, in harnessing this great American renewable energy resource, literally out of thin air," says Tom Kiernan, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association. "Texas has a long and storied history of energy production and as [our] report demonstrates, wind is an important part of the state's energy success story. In many ways, the Texas wind story is the story of American wind power."

The association released its 2018 report in advance of WINDPOWER, the wind energy industry's biggest conference, which is set for May 20 to 23 at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center. More than 8,000 people are expected to attend.

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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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