green for green

University of Houston-Downtown receives $250,000 gift to go greener

UHD's science building has received funding from a nonprofit affiliate of Green Mountain Energy to install green energy technology. Courtesy of NRG

The University of Houston-Downtown has gotten some green to make its new College of Sciences & Technology Building even more green.

The Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, a nonprofit affiliated with the Green Mountain Energy utility provider, has pledged more than $250,000 to UHD for installation of solar panels at the building, as well as the purchase of photosynthesis equipment.

Akif Uzman, dean of UHD's College of Sciences & Technology, says in a release that the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club gift propels "our drive to show students and our local community our commitment to energy conservation and sustainable energy practices."

By the spring of 2020, UHD will install a 54-panel, 16.7-kilowatt, off-grid solar system that will help power two environmental science teaching labs in the College of Sciences & Technology Building. One of the labs, the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Environmental Science Lab, will host classes by next year's spring semester.

"Our mission is to change the way power is made, and we share UHD's dedication to renewable energy, environmental education, and reducing carbon emissions," Mark Parsons, vice president and general manager of Houston-based Green Mountain Energy, says in a release.

Houston-based NRG Energy owns Green Mountain Energy.

Donations to the Sun Club come from Green Mountain Energy and its customers and employees. Since 1997, Green Mountain Energy has promoted energy efficiency, conservation, and environmental stewardship.

The Sun Club gift also will help buy a portable photosynthesis system. Michael Tobin, associate professor of biology, says the equipment will take measurements of plants in courses such as Plant Biology Laboratory, General Ecology Laboratory, and Environmental Lab and Field Studies. In addition, it will be used by students conducting faculty-guided research projects.

"A research-grade instrument to make photosynthesis and water use measurements will enhance students' research experiences and increase the likelihood that their project results can be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal," Tobin says in a release.

UHD opened the College of Sciences & Technology Building in August. It's the first University of Houston System building constructed to meet LEED Gold standards, reflecting a commitment to sustainability features such as energy-efficient lighting, recycled construction materials, and "smart" design components.

Spanning 105,000 square feet, the College of Sciences & Technology Building contains nearly 30 labs for teaching and research, as well as classrooms, meeting and study spaces, and a café. UHD envisions the building will be a "model for sustainability in Houston."

Environmental highlights of the building include a 6,000-gallon cistern that provides water for the outdoor urban gardens, and the addition of native grasses in the surrounding landscape to create a micro-pocket prairie and, in effect, an outdoor classroom.

Aside from classes and resources for students and faculty in biology, biotechnology, biological and physical sciences, and chemistry, the building houses UHD's Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability.

The center is "a game changer for UHD initiatives and scholarly activities centered on sustainability," Lisa Morano, director of the Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability, says in a release. "It also serves as an example of how planners and architects can incorporate environmentally sound decisions in the design and construction of academic facilities."

Juan Sánchez Muñoz, president of UHD, says the College of Sciences & Technology Building is a hub for academic exploration and a catalyst for community collaboration.

"Its labs and learning spaces will elevate UHD's ability to prepare the next generation of Houston's scientists and innovators. The facility also will serve as a place where Houstonians can gather to address issues affecting our city and to learn how UHD is leading positive change in the region," Muñoz says in a release. "It's a major addition to our campus and an incredible asset to Houston."

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Building Houston

 
 

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

INOVUES Founder and CEO Anas Al Kassas joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he’s moving the needle on the energy transition within the construction and architectural industries. Photo courtesy of INOVUES

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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