Crystal ball

Venture Houston sparks 6 predictions in energy corporate venturing for 2019

Energy corporate venture capital expected to trend toward more renewables, data tech, and energy storage investments. Getty Images

In November, Houston played host to a meeting of the corporate venture minds at Venture Houston. Global Corporate Venturing and Global University Venturing put on the two-day conference and organized panels, showcases, and chats from energy and investment professionals from leading companies.

Following the Houston conference, Leif Capital published "Corporate Venturing and the Future of Energy."

"What better place to reflect on what happened in energy corporate venture capital in 2018 and look ahead to what might happen in 2019 than Houston, the world's capital of energy," the report reads.

In it, Tom Whitehouse, CEO of Leif Capital, and Kaloyan Andonov, reporter at Global Corporate Ventures, look ahead to what the energy corporate venturing trends will be in 2019. Here's what they identified in the report.

1. Data-driven technologies will be a hot commodity
Focusing on organizational efficiency, corporate venture capitalists will continue to look to invest in data-tracking technologies. Where there's data reporting, there's lower cost and increased safety. One example of a company that's already had some success is Maana, a "knowledge platform that accelerates knowledge discovery to increase profitability for industrial and oil and gas companies," the report says. The company received GCV's award for Energy-tech Corporate Venture Capital Investment of the Year.

2. The United States will continue to follow Europe's low carbon lead
Despite the government's passive approach to climate change and reinvigorated respect for coal, U.S. energy companies will invest in low carbon and renewable resources. "Indeed, historians may look back at Chevron's and American Electric Power's November participation in Chargepoint's $280m Series H round as the point at which mainstream US oil & gas accepted that the future of mobility was electric," according to the report. Attendees at the November Venture Houston event saw a fair amount of accomplished low carbon companies. The resurgence of renewables is due to advancements in technology.

3. Rethinking rechargeable tools
A big issue in robotics development, according to Houston Mechatronics CTO Nick Radford, is efficient batteries — and he and the robot industry isn't alone. Across the automotive, mobile phones, and utilities industries, companies are in want for better power storage tools. But not only better — cheaper would be nice as well. "Battery cost went down from $1,000 to about $200 perKw/h from 2010 to 2016 and thus, made intermittent renewables more viable, both operationally and commercially," the report notes.

4. Off-grid energy storage investing
Industrial and domestic energy consumers alike are trending toward "grid defection" — a mix of on-site renewable resources and energy storage that allows off-grid energy consumption. This practice will result investments in batteries and a new breed cleaner modular power generators. For example, a California company, EtaGen, that creates a linear generator raised $83 million in January 2018 from the likes of American Electric Power, Centrica Innovations, and Statoil Energy Ventures, the report says.

5. Upstream corporate venturing is now lower priority
In recent years, upstream has been the belle of the ball when it comes to corporate venturing, but the report notes that this isn't the case for 2019. "This creates an interesting vacuum that is being filled by financial VCs," the experts say in the report. "We predict that upstream venturing will be increasingly led by specialist US financial VCs, who will be happy to see their CVC counterparts busy with other opportunities. Leaving them with some rich pickings perhaps."

6. More collaborations and few exits
Corporate investors have only recently increased investment activity over the past two years, so exits are a bit far off. "Emerging energy businesses take more time to mature and the investment horizon in energy is longer than in, say, software," the report reads. Instead, expect internal joint ventures and collaborations between entities.

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Here's what not to miss at the first all-virtual CERAWeek by IHS Markit. Screenshot via virtual.ceraweek.com

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

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