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Unleashing innovation for resilience is more urgent than ever, says Houston expert

Looking back on the past few days of low temperatures, ice, snow, power and water outages, and more, it's time to focus on innovation for resilience. Photo courtesy of ABC13

Greater Houston and all of Texas have faced enough persistent challenges over the past seven years that communities and businesses are at a breaking point. Not just financially and economically, but at societal and emotional levels expected from repeated natural and man-made disasters.

Increasingly, the focus on "resilience" as a call to action has become a buzzword rather than measure of performance by public and private sector decision-makers. Simply, our version of resilience is defined as pre-disaster risk mitigation and investment, not recovery and rebuilding after the fact, which is precisely what is being debated across traditional and social media.

As families, small businesses, larger corporations, neighborhoods, and communities require stability, predictability, and frankly reliability, there is now disappointment and disillusion across party lines for our public agencies, programs, officials. When the last major freeze and snowfall hit Texas, the state's power grid ERCOT and the legislature were warned that unless immediate steps were taken to invest in our electrical grid, an expected collapse of the entire system would leave entire cities and potentially the state in darkness with life-threatening consequences. Review any of the published recommendations from previous disasters and each conclusion identifies necessary and urgent investment, re-engineering, and technological innovation. And yet many of those findings are but another can kicked down the road.

While finger-pointing, investigations, hearings, reports, studies can be the actions of our elected and appointed officials, we turn to entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, and investors as the path forward. Want to add to your blood pressure? Read all the After-Action Reports and Lessons-Learned Analyses — from as far back as Hurricane Andrew to the most recent disasters, including snowstorms, derechos, wildfires, and now COVID-19. Very little changes in these documents regarding the failures of government and/or the significant gaps between alerts, warnings, preparation, response, recovery, rebuilding. More recently, analysis and assessments provided by Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania and the Insurance Information Institute suggest a 1:4+ return on investment for pre-disaster resilience.

Communities often are asked to rely upon hydrological engineering and science as the holy grails in response to our floods, storms, hurricanes. And yet, there is a new "class" of data scientists, analytic tools, curated information, and significant user interfaces that have changed how government, industry, civic, academia and philanthropy can allocate their resources in more efficient and effective ways to unleash innovative resilience. Emerging enterprises and organizations to watch that are driving the "new resilience data science" for entrepreneurs and innovators alike to develop the next generation of insight include Jupiter Intelligence, HazardHub, ResilientGrid, and EcoMetrics.

What is rarely captured in the post-incident studies and gatherings is the powerful impact of the "GSD" networks — "The Get Shit Done" relationships, partnerships, tools and resources mobilized by unleashing innovation! And the good news is that Greater Houston as well as across the nation, a number of companies, products, integrated data-equipment, digital platforms, and best practices have emerged from several innovation ecosystems that should be brought to the forefront of any next steps for community and civic leaders seeking to address a 21st century resilience agenda.

There are the data and platform folks — Umanity, FoodBot, GotSpot, Crowd Source Rescue (all based in Houston) along with Harbor, R3Water, and a host of other national firms — for example that have addressed the speed by which needs, resources, information and actionable intelligence can align to assist volunteers, neighborhoods, philanthropy, and small businesses. As previous senior leadership of FEMA have admitted, the public sector can no longer be the go-to resource during every disaster, incident, and threat.If we are to democratize resilience because no one entity can afford continued losses — such as the insurance and reinsurance sector — nor is there enough taxpayer dollars to fix our critical infrastructure, then we must spark private-philanthropic-public partnerships through innovation.

If COVID -19 taught us anything, it's that we continue to face inventory management supply-chain, and resilient inventory problems that have been identified during and after previous disasters. With blockchain, advanced sensors and monitors, robotics and remote screening, reopening Greater Houston and the US can be done with innovative health technologies such as San Antonio-based Xenex.

In regards to the challenge before us, we must recall that the demand and intersection for an energy, water and data "nexus" began to take off in response to the Texas and California droughts, rose again to the forefront during multiple hurricanes in the US, and are a now the latest critical infrastructure focus in the post snowstorms of 2021.

Why is having Elon Musk's GigaFactory in Texas so vital to resilience innovation? Because the research and product development of batteries to retain solar and wind produced power can directly impact the load-demands in advance of an oncoming weather or worse a cybersecurity threat to the grid. Sunnova — another Houston brand — has been proving the benefit of storage capacity from its work in Puerto Rico and now exhibits the unique performance for future off-grid resilience of homes, medical offices, and vital services.

Until and unless the public sector opens the doors for these and other innovators through immediate and permanent changes in procurement and contracting, strategic partnerships, incentives and credits — while frankly sharing the leadership function with entrepreneurs, inventors, and investors — we will all pay the price for the failure to act.

There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face. The Insurance Information Institute's National Resilience Accelerator Initiative and Resilience Innovation Hub Collaboratory (with its flagship in Houston) is working to unleash the best of Texas', the Nation's and the World's best ideas, resources, information and investments.

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Richard Seline is the co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub.

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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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