Guest column

Houston has what it takes to emerge as a smart city leader, expert says

Houston real estate expert shares why he thinks the city is prime for smart city tech and implementation. Photo via Getty Images

While Houston has long been known as the Energy Capital of the World, there’s no reason we, as a city, cannot hold more than one title. What if Houston could take on the title of Smartest City in the World?

There are many factors that create a smart city, and it is deeper than just implementing new smart technology – it is a city that better supports the lifestyles of its residents seamlessly and unobtrusively. To effectively understand what the needs of the community are and the right types of technologies to implement when urban planning, data collection and data security measures are vital.

The City of Houston has already begun to use data and emerging technology to improve the quality of life for citizens, share information with the public, drive economic growth, and build a more inclusive society. To be successful and provide enriching experiences for Houstonians, these updates must happen at the infrastructure level, working as an integrated system that can be continuously optimized.

In 2015, Houston adopted an Open Data policy to support data sharing efforts between the government, its citizens, businesses and researchers. In addition to this, our city has made strategic investments in artificial intelligence, the Cloud, the Edge, smart sensors, big data, and more. These investments are being bolstered by private companies and institutions, building on these technologies to tackle urban problems, identify better solutions and enact privacy protections. These companies, such as McCord, are helping execute the city’s vision around development, transportation, public safety and community engagement.

Houston already has a case study

Citizens also play an active role in building the future of Houston through their behaviors and consumption patterns.

Take Generation Park, one of the largest privately held commercial developments in the country, sitting on 4,200 contiguous acres in Northeast Houston. As this land continues to be built out, developers at McCord partnered with Bosch technologies to implement sensors and other smart technologies to better understand how visitors are utilizing the trails, parking and space. These insights will then help McCord recognize parking patterns or which areas of the trails are most heavily trafficked, allowing the company to make more informed decisions regarding maintenance and infrastructure updates, ultimately providing a better experience for their visitors.

The data can also be factored in when planning events for the community. McCord will be able to use the data collected to determine things like the optimal times, preferred days and the need for parking at Redemption Square.

But the data use doesn’t stop at just events - tenants can use it to determine when to expect the dinner rush and apply that to staffing, prepping, happy hour specials and ultimately, factor it into better servicing their customers. Those living at Redemption Square’s 255 Assay Luxury Apartments will also benefit as McCord uses data trends to optimize their curbside management practices to better accommodate rideshare and food delivery services.

The plans for Redemption Square and Generation Park continue to adapt as data is collected and visitor behavior better understood. The goal of this data collection is to make Generation Park a citizen-optimized environment via cutting-edge technology where residents, visitors, employees, and businesses will thrive while knowing that their privacy is not at risk.

The bottom line

Houston’s diversity, business-friendly environment, and workforce make it a prime candidate to become a smart city. Becoming smarter in our transportation, public safety, sustainability practices, and infrastructure will create a better future for Houstonians.

Creating secure, holistic systems that work and learn together is central to successful smart city infrastructure. Private and public organizations must work together to collect data, pivot plans when needed and implement the correct technologies to ensure that these efforts ultimately make Houston a better place to live.

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Ryan McCord is president of Houston-based McCord Development.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cemvita reported a successful pilot program on its gold hydrogen project in the Permian Basin. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

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