More power to us

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.

Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

When Amy Chronis, the Houston managing partner for Deloitte, was asked to join the Greater Houston Partnership last year, she immediately started doing some research on some of the bigger picture issues the city is facing.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for.

Overwhelmingly, the stakeholders wanted the city to be known for its innovation, something that surprised Chronis. The group pared down the eight topics of action into three they felt were most timely and then spent the rest of the time focusing on: clean energy, transportation, and smart infrastructure (technology and communication). Now, Chronis has a better understanding on what the city wants as she leads her committee for the GHP.

In her career, which has spanned the state of Texas, she's always served clients in various sectors. Specifically over her last 30 or so years in Houston, Chronis has seen the tide change within innovation, especially with large energy companies.

"We're not Silicon Valley, but Houston has so much going on in terms of development — in energy but also even in medical with the Texas Medical Center," says Chronis, citing advancements from the likes of Rice University, Houston Exponential, TMCx, Station Houston, and more. "Houston's got a lot more going on than people realize."

Chronis sat down to talk with InnovationMap about the change Houston companies are experiencing and her work with the GHP.

InnovationMap: What did you learn from the smart cities study you conducted for the GHP?

Amy Chronis: I learned a lot. It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward. I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance.

IM: In terms of developing the city's workforce, what aspects of the community does Houston need to focus on?

AC: I think there was widespread agreement that we need to keep improving our educational outcomes for all our people. The issues around workforce development are critical for us to improve. It will take public-private partnerships to make real progress.

IM: What can Houston learn from other cities?

AC: I learned a lot about other Smart City initiatives that are being done and accomplishments made in other cities around the world. What those accomplishments have in common was a concerted effort by the city, region, and business leaders — all the stakeholders — to agree on smaller, attainable goals. Instead of trying to address something in a huge way, they nibbled at the edges, if you will.

IM: Do you think Houston is able to do that?

AC: Absolutely, I love Houston — in particular our manifest destiny and inherent pillar to our culture where everyone can make it. It's why I came here 30-something years ago and why my family and I love it here. I think hard work and opportunity still makes Houston a great city. We have the ability, we just need help bringing actionable steps forward.

IM: Switching gears a little, what's the role Deloitte and its clients are playing within Houston's innovation ecosystem?

AC: We like to think we're a real conduit for innovation and a digital transformation for many of our clients. We're very blessed to serve many of the large energy companies — and across industries — in Houston. It's really gratifying to see how much is being invested in research and development and the focus on innovation catalysts. I think there's an awareness now — more than there was a few years ago — that if you're not moving forward, then you're behind.

IM: How do you see the future of Houston's workforce?

AC: I think we have real progress to be made to make sure all of our citizens can achieve the education and opportunities they need. I'm heartened by public-private partnerships that are already underway.

As digitalization moves along, people talk about whether or not artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace jobs. It will replace some jobs, but it'll be far more important that young people still learn those really critical thinking skills. We will need people to evaluate data and make decisions — that critical reasoning will still be absolutely vital.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.