Here's why more and more companies — across industries — are making the switch to sustainable technology. Photo via Getty Images

In a modern business landscape characterized by increasing uncertainty and volatility, energy resilience has emerged as a cornerstone of strategic decision-making.

Let's delve deeper into why executives should view energy resilience as one of the best risk management investments they can make.

Mitigating risks and enhancing stability

Investing in energy resilience isn't solely about averting risks; it's about mitigating the potential losses that could arise from energy-related disruptions. It is estimated that half of today’s businesses lack an effective resilience strategy, even though nearly 97 percent of companies have been impacted by a critical risk event.

Whether it's power outages from extreme weather events, grid emergencies from a changing resource mix that is more weather dependent or cyber-attacks, disruptions can inflict substantial financial and reputational damage on businesses. By implementing resilient energy infrastructure and practices, organizations can minimize the impact of such disruptions, ensuring consistent operations even in the face of adversity. As an added benefit, these investments can also contribute to enhancing the stability of our grid infrastructure, benefiting not just individual businesses but the local community and the entire economy.

Improving costs and operational efficiency

Energy resilience also isn't just a defensive strategy; it's also about optimizing costs and operational efficiency to create competitive advantage. By investing in resilient energy infrastructure, such as backup power systems and microgrids, businesses can reduce the downtime associated with energy disruptions, thus avoiding revenue losses and operational inefficiencies.

Additionally, resilient energy solutions often lead to long-term cost savings through increased energy efficiency and reduced reliance on costly backup systems. As circumstances become increasingly uncertain, businesses that prioritize energy resilience can gain a competitive edge by operating more efficiently and cost-effectively than their counterparts.

Ensuring consistent operations amidst uncertainty

In today's rapidly changing business environment, characterized by geopolitical tensions, climate change, and technological advancements, uncertainty has become the new normal. Amidst this uncertainty, ensuring consistent operations is paramount for business continuity and long-term success. Investing in energy resilience provides businesses with the assurance that they can maintain operations even in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Whether it's a sudden power outage from a storm or the grid is stressed and unable to deliver reliable power, resilient energy infrastructure enables organizations to adapt swiftly and continue delivering products and services to customers without interruption.

Enhancing sustainability efforts

In recent years, a growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental stewardship has led to organizations recognizing the importance of reducing their carbon footprint and transitioning towards cleaner, renewable energy sources. Investing in energy resilience provides an opportunity to align sustainability efforts with business objectives.

By integrating renewable energy technologies and energy-efficient practices into their resilience strategies, organizations can not only enhance their environmental performance but also achieve long-term cost savings, ensure regulatory compliance, and build stakeholder trust.

The value of energy resilience for businesses

It is not enough to successfully handle day-to-day operations anymore; organizations need to be prepared for unpredictable events with a reliable energy supply and backup plan. Recently, a hospital in Texas had to evacuate patients and experienced heavy financial losses due to the failure of their traditional diesel generators during an extended outage.

After reevaluating their resiliency strategy, they decided to implement full-facility backup power using Enchanted Rock’s dual-purpose managed microgrid solution, which kept their power on during the next outage and ensured both patient safety and full operational capabilities. Investing in an energy resilience strategy like a microgrid will mitigate these risks and ensure always-on power in times of uncertainty.

A responsible decision for the greater good

Beyond the immediate benefits to individual businesses, investing in energy resilience is also a responsible decision for the greater good. As businesses become increasingly reliant on the grid infrastructure, ensuring its resilience is essential for the stability and reliability of the entire energy ecosystem. By proactively investing in resilient energy solutions, for themselves, businesses also contribute to strengthening the grid infrastructure, reducing the risk of widespread outages, and promoting the overall resilience of the energy system.

Executives must recognize the strategic imperative of investing in resilient energy infrastructure like microgrid systems, which can provide a competitive advantage against organizations that do not have similar measures in place. In doing so, they can navigate uncertainty with confidence, set their business up for future success, and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.

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Ken Cowan is the senior vice president of Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based provider of microgrid technology.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.
What can hospital systems do to combat climate change? A lot, according to a new report from the Center for Houston's Future. Photo via Getty Images

New report calls for Houston health care community to take action amid climate change

time for action

A new report underscores an “urgent need” for health care systems in the Houston area to combat climate change and avoid an environmental “code blue.”

“By adopting collaborative strategies and leveraging technological innovations, health care providers can play a pivotal role in safeguarding the health of Houston’s residents against the backdrop of an evolving climate landscape,” says the report, published by the Center for Houston’s Future.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • Advocate for policies that promote decarbonization.
  • Create eco-friendly spaces at hospitals and in low-income communities, among other places.
  • Recruit “champions” among health leaders and physicians to help battle climate change.
  • Establish academic programs to educate health care professionals and students about climate health and decarbonization.
  • Bolster research surrounding climate change.
  • Benchmark, track, and publish statistics about greenhouse gas emissions “to foster accountability and reduce environmental impacts of the health care sector.” The report notes that the U.S. health care sector emits 8.5 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.

“By embracing collaborative strategies, acting with urgency and implementing sustainable practices, our region’s health care providers can play a pivotal role in creating a healthier, more resilient Houston,” says Brett Perlman, outgoing president and CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future. “If we work together, given all the collective wisdom, resources and innovation concentrated in our medical community, we can tackle the challenges that are confronting us.”

The report highlights the threat of climate-driven disasters in the Houston area, such as extreme heat, floods, and hurricanes. These events are likely to aggravate health issues like heatstroke, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and insect-borne diseases, says the report.

St. Luke’s Health, a nonprofit health care system with 16 hospitals in the Houston area and East Texas, provided funding for the report.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

"Companies and stakeholders across the energy spectrum need to act together and act fast." Photo via Getty Images

Energy tech expert: Recent report shines light on clean tech progress needed by 2030

guest column

Houston is home to some of the nation's largest oil and gas exploration and production firms, making it one of the world’s most important energy capitals. Growing regional support for pioneering clean tech, such as carbon capture, will help achieve the crucial transition to net zero whilst maintaining economic stability, boosting local industries and creating jobs.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), North America and Asia Pacific are expected to hold the largest share in carbon capture capacity. North America’s world-leading carbon capture potential comes as no surprise given the nation’s dominance in oil and gas, and ideal geology for sequestration.

The IEA’s recently published World Energy Outlook 2023 depicts a global market that is in transition. With more companies, world leaders and governments recognizing that a shift towards sustainable energy is both inevitable and transformative, the question is no longer whether we switch to clean energy, but rather how soon the transition can happen.

For every $1 in investment spending on fossil fuels globally, $1.8 is now being spent to develop clean energy, according to the IEA. Although the clean energy market has almost doubled in the past five years to reach an estimated $2.8 trillion in 2023, investment needs to hit $4.2 trillion per year by 2030 to achieve the universally shared goal of net zero. The IEA believes around 1 Gigaton of CO2 must be captured in 2030, rising to 6 Gigatons by 2050 to achieve the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (termed NZE Scenario). This presents a tremendous opportunity for government stakeholders and the business community in Houston to turbocharge the economy and protect the planet from the impact of climate change.

While volatility around the energy market lingers, sustainable technologies remain one of the most dynamic areas of global energy investment. An essential ingredient to its success is bringing on board innovators, entrepreneurs, corporations, and financiers to ensure technology innovation is front and center in facilitating the clean energy transition.

Carbon capture technology is critical, but energy leaders and hard-to-abate industries are under pressure to move faster. To do that, the carbon capture industry must scale up its deployment and increase adoption if hard-to-abate sectors are to address the 30 percent of global CO2 emissions for which they are responsible. Governments have a pivotal role to play in providing financial, regulatory and policy incentives, facilitating a collaborative environment between financiers, hard-to-abate operators, and clean tech companies. While we are moving in the right direction, there is no room for complacency or procrastination given the short timescales for meaningful action.

Over the past several years, Carbon Clean, a global company that is revolutionizing carbon capture, has enjoyed significant expansion in North America. Following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022, we saw huge interest in our modular industrial carbon capture technology almost overnight, resulting in a 64 percent increase in inquiries from the U.S. To meet this booming demand, we have opened a U.S. headquarters in Houston, and have plans to double our U.S. headcount to meet industry requirements for our scalable and cost-effective technology, CycloneCC. In short, the United States is poised to become our biggest market. Given our latest lead investor and partner is Houston-based Chevron New Energies, there is no better place than Houston to drive innovation in the country’s energy sector.

The IRA did more than just bring in new inquiries for our breakthrough technology – it also signaled to the energy sector that the federal government is getting serious about bringing emissions down. The impact of the IRA cannot be overstated, especially for the point-source carbon capture technology pioneered by Carbon Clean. While the IRA involves billions of dollars of public investment, it is set up in such a way that companies must make substantial investments first, acting as a down payment on fostering jobs and ensuring the business community is delivering ambitious climate action. The benefits are being felt locally as well – cities like Houston are at the forefront of what the IRA has to offer, taking advantage of these investments and reducing emissions.

Companies and stakeholders across the energy spectrum need to act together and act fast. With the dramatic growth required for carbon capture to have full effect, it will be essential for government, industry, and innovators to join together to concentrate on a number of projects and clusters. We are confident that with new cutting-edge technology and broad collaboration we can rapidly get the world on the right path to net zero.

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Prateek Bumb is CTO and co-founder of Carbon Clean and the principal innovator of Carbon Clean’s industrial carbon capture technologies.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.
When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, the CRE community needs to prioritize marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Photography by Peter Molick

Experts: How to better prepare Houston to combat climate related challenges

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Houston is no stranger to hurricanes, and in recent years winter storms have become an increasing concern. Following the winter freeze in 2021, more than 4 million Texans were left without power, water, or heat. The state’s infrastructure system was adversely impacted concurrently — including workplaces, hospitals, transportation, homes, drinking water distribution, electric power generation, agriculture, and grocery stores. Now, a new potential disaster is on the horizon. Recent research shows Houston is most likely to be affected by wildfires, a climate-related challenge that our city has not previously faced.

According to the Gensler Research Institute’s 2022 U.S. Climate Action Survey, since 2019, only 18 percent of Americans believe their communities are built to withstand climate change. The good news is Americans overwhelmingly agree that addressing climate change is urgent. The question many are asking is — “How can we take action to better prepare buildings and cities to weather the climate challenge?” The solution is simple. In order to understand where we need to go, we must understand how we got here.

With a population that has more than doubled in the past 50 years, it is challenging for most Houstonians to imagine a time when The Bayou City was nothing more than agricultural lands and oil fields. Today, Houston is known for being the fourth-most populous city in the United States. It is a sprawling concrete jungle home to the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions. When reflecting on the past 50 years, one can’t help but evaluate the city’s successes and shortcomings. While Houston has succeeded in becoming a diverse, international city, we have sacrificed the very ecology that once made up one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas. By 1980, Houston possessed the least amount of green space per person in the country.

As new developments popped up across the city, it became difficult to convince developers to pursue third-party certifications such as LEED, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability that provides the framework for designing healthy, efficient, carbon saving buildings. We can credit Hines with being one of the few developers in Houston to prioritize green design during the early-2000s. City leaders also began advocating for resilient strategies and more green space to attract and retain international talent and businesses. In recent years, we have seen an increase in buildings that are achieving LEED certification, and soon it will become the baseline.

The Houston Advanced Research Center, Photography by Shau Lin Hon, Slyworks Photography

An example of a project leading the way for resilient design is The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). In 2017 the organization completed work on its LEED Platinum Certified headquarters which was designed to meet the ENERGY STAR certification rate of 99 (out of 100). This means that the building is more efficient than 99 percent of all office buildings in the United States. Skanska is another construction and development company bringing a sustainable mindset to downtown Houston with its work on Bank of America Tower. In 2019, the 775,000 square foot building became the largest LEED v4 Platinum Core and Shell certified project in the world to date and was developed with harvesting technology that will significantly reduce energy usage.

It’s also important to understand the impact that the climate crisis is having on people. 91 percent of U.S. Gen Z/Millennials have been affected by extreme weather events since 2019, the most of any generation. These experiences have resulted in two generations preparing to react and combat climate change and has encouraged a spirit of transparency among companies who choose to share their environmental goals and strategies.

For architects and designers, addressing building and energy codes is proving to be the next big design consideration. As codes progress in the coming years, the result will be more unique and unexpected building designs.

When reimagining the use of buildings, Architects Paulina Abella and Tayler Trojcak propose an experimental process for repurposing vacant buildings called High Hackers. The concept provides an opportunity for developers to offer prime downtown real estate to people with diverse skill sets, whom they call “hackers,” to pursue projects shaped by their individual ideas. These hackers—makers, artists, and academics—will work alongside one another in spaces that encourage them to coexist with creatives from other fields and disciplines. More importantly, it fosters a collaborative, organic, and innovative workflow.

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, we encourage prioritizing marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Promoting awareness and optimism in our communities is another simple yet effective way to make a difference. For businesses, creating a sense of continuity in the face of climate events, investing in energy and resource efficiency and adaptation, and addressing insurability and the long-term value of real estate will ultimately help lead Houston and its community members toward a place of preparedness and resiliency.

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Rives Taylor directs Gensler’s Global Design Resilience teams and initiatives and has been a faculty member of both Rice University and the University of Houston for 30 years. Maria Perez is a design resilience leader for Gensler’s South Central region and director of sustainable design based in Gensler’s Houston office.

Climate change sparked a young Houstonian to create Footprint, an app that tracks a person's ecological impact. Photo courtesy of Footprint

App created by Houston entrepreneur tracks personal sustainability

seeing green

Early in the morning on June 5, 2001, the tents in which Dakota Stormer and his family were sleeping started to blow over. Rain started coming down, hard and sideways, as the family scrambled to escape tropical storm Allison, which would later devastate the Houston area with flooding and kill 41 people. Stormer and his family made it home safely, but there were damages: $8.5 billion across the Atlantic coast, and a severe impression on Stormer that environmental issues were of deadly consequence.

Last year, Stormer's interest in environmental activism led him to make Footprint, an app that tracks the carbon footprints of users. It works similar to diet-tracking apps like MyFitnessPal, but it doesn't count the calories; instead, it logs the emissions of their eating and travel habits.

"It's kind of difficult to change your behavior immediately, but we try to make it easy so that your sustainable decisions can become a habit," Stormer says.

Climate change threatens the Houston area remarkably: Rising sea levels and warming waters will likely bring stronger and more devastating storms to the city — not unlike Hurricane Harvey, a category 4, which hit in 2017.

In 2018, Stormer joined the Citizens Climate Lobby to push legislation that could combat the effects of climate change in Texas. The Lobby appeals to both sides of the aisle, Stormer says, but getting laws passed still takes time — and many of the lobbyists wanted a way to engage themselves in the environmental efforts at a human level. That's how Stormer, along with three high school students as interns, came up with the prototype for Footprint.

Footprint users complete generalized surveys that sum up the carbon emissions of their day-to-day habits — how often they drive and fly, their meat intake and typical portion sizes. The app's algorithm calculates an annual carbon footprint, then averages it out to a per-week measure. This way, users know their goals — and the app sends them suggestions and challenges, like "meatless Mondays," to help reduce their emissions. This feature, Stormer says, can be used in organizations to create competitions that incentivize reducing everyone's carbon footprints.

"For one person, it doesn't seem like there's much that you can do," Stormer says. "But the number of people across the world that care about climate change — it's actually a majority, at this point."

Dakota Stormer created the Footprint app to help users be more conscientious of their personal contribution to climate change. Photo courtesy of Stormer

There's also a marketplace, which connects Footprint users to other companies creating sustainable products and organizations that offer environmental resources. The major thrust, though, of this early-stage project is education: Footprint is piloting in a Houston classroom, and Stormer has plans for more pilots across Texas to affect more environmentally conscious curriculum. Having recently graduated high schoolers on the staff, Stormer says, has helped to easily fit the app into classroom settings. They're also running a pilot in a local law firm, to test the app's effectiveness in corporate settings.

For now, Footprint is raising $65,000 in an angel round to run effectively and hiring another developer to monitor the app as it grows past its early stages. It has also recently formed a climate advisory council — made up of researchers, professors, investors, principals, and other education professionals — to engage even more people in the app's development.

Stormer's strategy is to create a community of people invested — financially, politically, and personally — in reducing human impact on the earth.

"When you build a community around it, you can have significant impacts on the future of our planet," Stormer says.

Houston's seen the effect on climate change. Now, Impact Hub Houston is putting together a brainstorming event to find sustainable solutions. Getty Images

Houston organization to host a hackathon to find sustainable solutions to climate change

It's not easy being green

Houstonians are teaming up to put on a hackathon that will gather designers, developers, entrepreneurs, students, policymakers, and more to find sustainable solutions to climate change.

Impact Hub Houston is organizing Houston's fist Climathon for October 25. The local nonprofit is teaming up with global organizer EIT Climate-KIC, the City of Houston, Citizens' Environmental Coalition, Sketch City, January Advisors, Bunker Labs, WeWork Labs, Syzygy Plasmonics, and GoodFair.

"During Hurricane Harvey, we saw Houston's talent rise to these challenges and develop solutions that not only helped rescue, feed and shelter local Houstonians, but went on to help people in Florida and Puerto Rico," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in a news release. "We're excited to join the global Climathon challenge in order to give Houston's changemakers a platform to develop sustainable air, water, energy, etc., solutions and take them to the next level. In such a diverse city with so many resources, it seems only natural that Houston can help lead the way in developing local solutions that can scale to other contexts."

The city of Houston has seen its fair share of extreme weather as a result of climate change. The Energy Capital of the World among the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and mayor's office recently-announced Climate Action Plan to address the concerns of climate change.

"Houston has a lot to lose as the weather changes," says Jeff Reichman, founder of January Advisors and Sketch City, in the release. "We should be using our talents to elevate good ideas for our region, and to connect with one another for long-term collaborations."

The event will zero in on Houston's biggest emissions problems: transportation and commercial and residential buildings. The best ideas coming out of the Climathon will be sent to the international database for consideration for the global awards in Paris.

For more information and to register, view partnership opportunities, or sign up to volunteer, visit the website.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.