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New report calls for Houston, energy incumbents to step up to lead energy transition investment

A new report from the Houston Energy Transition Initiative finds that the energy transition sector should commit $150 billion in capital by 2040. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston’s quest to become the world’s energy transition capital, the region should aim for $150 billion in capital earmarked for the sector by 2040, a new report says.

The report, released by the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, or HETI, and supported by consulting giant McKinsey & Co., indicates about $15 billion in energy transition capital is flowing into the region each year and about $25 billion is flowing out of the region. Of the $25 billion, oil and gas players with headquarters or a significant presence in Houston account for more than 80 percent.

“Increased energy transition capital commitment from energy incumbents raises investor confidence in Houston’s potential for energy transition leadership,” according to the report.

The report identifies several primary targets for energy transition capital, such as:

  • Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)
  • Hydrogen
  • Renewable fuels
  • Chemicals and plastics
  • Power generation

Such sources would represent $85 billion of the $150 billion in energy transition capital envisioned for 2040, according to the report. The $150 billion in capital would be the equivalent of up to 80 percent of capital expenditures by the U.S. oil and gas sector in 2021.

The $150 billion “would help the diversity of the city’s economy, workforce, and infrastructure,” the report says.

“There is no geography in the world better positioned than Houston to lead the transition to and integration of abundant, low-carbon energy solutions,” Jane Stricker, executive director of HETI, says in a news release from the Greater Houston Partnership.

The report says that to reach the $150 billion mark, the Houston area must step up the amount of investment in local energy transition startups. As it stands now, more energy transition capital (about $25 billion) is going out of the region than is coming into the region (about $15 billion). Much of that capital supports startups.

Funding for energy transition ventures in the region needs to be supplied by players in venture capital, debt capital, and private equity, the report points out.

Aside from the money required to evolve into the world’s energy transition capital, the report notes that the region also needs to:

  • Become a talent and innovation hub. Among other things, this would involve attracting more startup incubators and accelerators, boosting recruitment at area and out-of-state universities, ramping up financial commitments from major energy companies here, and encouraging major energy companies with headquarters outside the region to base their energy transition operations here.
  • Increase marketing of Houston as a hub for financing of energy transition efforts. This would include reaching out to financiers outside Houston (in places such as New York City, the Middle East, and Singapore), holding energy transition events in Houston, and wooing energy transition companies and financiers.

“Houston’s status as the energy capital of the world, based on decades of leadership in energy markets, has fostered an experienced [private equity] and capital markets community,” says Kassia Yanosek, Houston- based partner and global leader in McKinsey’s energy and sustainability practices. “Our city’s financial sector leaders have great appetite to expand focus to the next investment wave — and face a pivotal opportunity in today’s evolving market to grow and scale energy transition-related endeavors.”

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Building Houston

 
 

UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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