It's only going to get hotter in Houston — can the grid take it? Switching to solar is a way to avoid having to worry about that question, says this expert. Photo courtesy of Freedom Solar

You know the old adage: "If you don't like the weather here, wait five minutes." Texas weather is not just unpredictable; it can be downright bipolar. I don't need to remind you of the knockout punch Old Man Winter delivered last February, even to parts of the state where hard freezes are few and a "snow event" usually amounts to a dusting. It will be a long time before Texans forget spending a week without power in single-digit temperatures — huddled together in their homes under mountains of blankets — with no heat, no way to bathe or cook, and no escape.

The massive power outages of Valentine's Day week spurred public outrage and a full-throated demand that state leaders take decisive steps to make Texas' electric grid sustainable. The legislature was only a month into its 140-day regular session at the time, but still failed to do anything substantial to fix the grid before adjourning May 31.

Now — well ahead of the hottest days of summer — Texans are wondering why the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is already asking them to set their thermostats at 78 degrees, turn off lights, avoid using their ovens or doing laundry in the evenings, and otherwise conserve energy. It was ERCOT's second such call since April. Some local energy companies have recommended setting thermostats even higher, and local rolling blackouts have continued in Dallas, Houston, and elsewhere in the state throughout the months of June and July. That may be fine for some people during Texas' scorching summer heat, but for others, it is untenable. For the elderly or infirmed, it could be deadly.

Experts have warned the grid is unreliable, the system is strained, and homeowners and businesses hover at near-constant risk for blackouts, unless the state does more to weatherize the grid, bring more generators back online, and provide more emergency backup power. Meanwhile, when temperatures hit triple digits and stay there for days, the blackout risks will skyrocket.

But there is one obvious solution to grid instability that will enable Texans to keep their homes and businesses comfortably cool during the hot summer months ahead, without setting their thermostats higher or timing their activities to government guidelines. Widespread distributed generation of solar energy, instead of the current emphasis on remotely located utility-scale solar, would provide a highly effective, long-term solution to decreasing strain on the ERCOT power grid.

That means dramatically increasing the number of solar installations on residential and commercial properties statewide. Consider the distance and infrastructure required to bring power from a West Texas solar farm to the state's big cities. That's not only a costly undertaking, it exposes the system to many vulnerabilities along the way. It makes more sense to install solar panels on-site, behind the meter, and pair them with storage for backup power.

The logic is simple: Increasing the number of homes and businesses with on-site solar power would decrease the burden on the grid and help insulate it against failure. Further, by installing home batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall for backup power, residents can control their own power supply and ensure its reliability, even during extreme weather events—summer or winter.

These technologies are cost-efficient and readily available today. A few months ago, Congress extended the 26 percent federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) — which also applies to batteries paired with solar — through 2021 (dropping to 22 percent in 2022), making the move to solar and backup power even more sensible.

State leaders have tried to lay the blame for last winter's power outages on renewable energy. But failures of natural gas power plants, not renewable generators, caused the grid failures that led to those deadly blackouts.

On July 6, months after declaring "everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas," Governor Abbott ordered the PUC to take steps to overhaul the state's electric system. But the solutions he's offering—like constructing new coal, gas, and nuclear power plants and building their transmission lines faster—are giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and will take a long time to complete. Texas needs reliable power NOW.

Meanwhile, state officials are increasingly emphasizing conserving power during extreme temperatures, which suggests they don't even believe their assurances that no more blackouts lie ahead. On-site solar power is the obvious solution, both today and for the long-term health of our rapidly growing state and rapidly warming planet.

------

Bret Biggart is CEO of Austin-based Freedom Solar, the leading turnkey solar energy installer in Texas, providing high-quality, cost-effective, reliable solar solutions for the residential and commercial markets.

Texans have been rightfully wary of the grid. Photo by Getty Images

ERCOT announces plan to improve Texas power grid reliability

a better grid

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently demanded aggressive action from state utility regulators to shore up the power grid.

Now, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is revealing its plan to address improvements.

On Tuesday, July 13, ERCOT released a 60-item roadmap it said will be updated regularly through the end of the year. The council says it includes both existing and new initiatives.

Here are a few of the items, according to ERCOT:

  • Taking a more aggressive approach by bringing more generation online sooner if it's needed to balance supply and demand. The grid operator is also purchasing more reserve power, especially on days when the weather forecast is uncertain.
  • Requiring CEO certifications. After a rule change, all market participants who own or operate generation resources and/or transmission/distribution power lines will be required to submit a letter signed by their CEO twice a year certifying their companies have completed their weatherization preparations to protect the electric grid for the summer and winter seasons.
  • Adding new requirements for generation owners. ERCOT is proposing a new market rule that requires generators to provide operational updates more frequently.
  • Assessing on-site fuel supplies. ERCOT is reviewing the need for on-site fuel supplies for some generators.
  • Performing unannounced testing of generation resources. ERCOT says this testing helps verify that generators have provided accurate information about their availability.
  • Addressing transmission constraints in Rio Grande Valley. ERCOT and the PUC (Public Utility Commission) are initiating a process to address RGV transmission limitations and provide increased market access for resources in the Valley. ERCOT says this will improve reliability for customers during normal conditions and high-risk weather events.


ERCOT and grid woes continue to be top of mind for Texans. At least 220 generators were offline the week of June 14 when council officials called for Texans to conserve power.

-----

Continue reading on our news partner ABC13.

Griddy, lead by CEO Greg Craig, is making a surge in Texas by disrupting the state's outdated electricity plan. Courtesy of Griddy

Electricity startup puts its Houston customers on the grid

Power Player

In 2015, Greg Craig looked into Texas' wholesale energy industry and a light bulb went on over his head. He realized that the way consumers were delivered power was opaque and misleading. The electricity industry is one of the few areas that the tech boom hasn't yet infiltrated. That is, until Griddy came along, launching in Houston in the spring of 2017.

"Technology has changed and bettered everything in life," says Craig, Griddy CEO and co-founder, who compares Griddy to likes of Amazon, Uber, and Costco. "Our thesis was, 'what if we could build a tech platform that would connect the home directly to the grid?'"

Instead of profiting off hidden fees and fixed prices, Griddy provides customers wholesale electricity prices and promises to be open, honest, and transparent. Rather than charging inflated rates, the company only makes a profit from the $9.99 monthly membership fees. Everything else is at cost — no margins, hidden fees, or break fees. This all translates to savings of up to 30 percent, says Craig, who co-founded Griddy with executive chairman, Nick Bain.

Electricity of the future
Griddy customers are connected directly to their smart meter which records electricity use and communicates this information to the home owner's electricity supplier

Customers can download and use the Griddy app and get a by-the-second update of the wholesale price so that they know when the price spikes and it's time to turn off unnecessary energy suckers. The app also offers 36-hour forecast to give consumers an idea of what the wholesale price will be at a specific time.

The mobile aspect of Griddy is a large draw as consumers increasingly use their phones and do everything online or in-app. From the transparent prices to the mobile app, Griddy's features have been well received by millennials, a generation drawn to companies that stand out and are committed to strong corporate values that put the customer first and offer low prices.

This month, Griddy launched a new app, Griddy Guest, that allows non-members a chance to test the benefits of Griddy before becoming a member. "We understand people may be a little cautious of switching to a new type of energy provider so we created Griddy Guest to allow people to access the perks and track their potential savings before completely switching over to becoming a Griddy member," says Craig.

Consumers can use the app for free, view the current wholesale price of electricity and projected prices using your zip code, and receive an estimate of savings from using Griddy in comparison to the average rate for their location, house type, and weather zone.

"We're trying to be disruptive and innovative and do things no one's ever done," Craig tells InnovationMap. "No one's ever done 'we'll tell you exactly what we make,' no one's ever done 'here's real time wholesale,' no one's ever provided mobile app information like this by the second, and now no one's ever done 'be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test', and now we've done it."

What's next?
Griddy, which is only in Texas, is continuing to spread into deregulated markets with sights set on the East Coast in the first half of 2019, to be closely followed by an international move to the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. The company is also pursuing machine-learning artificial intelligence to handle optimal time for power use, a technology that would automatically adjust power use for consumers during price spikes. This type of feature would be connected directly to households, closely monitoring the price of electricity to save consumers even more money.

Overall, Griddy has made a large footprint with its launch in Texas and is currently in 39 different cities within the state. The company hopes to continue to turn consumers to wholesale electricity over traditional overpriced fixed energy plans to disrupt the industry and save individuals money.

Feel the surge

Griddy users can enable push notifications that alert them of surge pricing so they can turn off any large appliances to avoid excess charges.

Texas has been deemed inefficient when it comes to energy. Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

National report declares Texas dim when it comes to energy efficiency

Power Problems

For a state that's home to the "Energy Capital of the World," Texas falls flat when it comes to energy efficiency. WalletHub, a personal finance site, ranked the most and least energy-efficient states, and Texas was named No. 42 of the 48 states evaluated.

The states were scored on home and auto efficiency out of an available 100 points. Home efficiency was calculated based on the ratio of total residential energy consumption to annual degree days, the days of the year in each region that require buildings to engage heating or cooling. Auto efficiency was established by factoring in the annual miles driven per year, gallons of gasoline consumed, and population. At the top of the national ranking were New York, Vermont, Utah, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Texas, with its hot climate and underdeveloped public transportation systems, scored only 33.34 total points on the report. The state ranked No. 35 on home energy efficiency and No. 42 for auto energy efficiency. Texans drive over 271 billion miles annually and use over 19 billion gallons of gas, the second worst and worst rankings, respectively, among the states considered for this study.

The Environmental Protection Agency's research tells a different story of Texas' sustainability. The EPA's Green Power Partnership named its 2018 top local governments, and Texas cities claimed three spots in the top five. Houston was ranked No. 1, followed by Dallas at No. 2 and Austin at No. 5. This ranking is based on the annual green power usage — Houstonians use almost 1.1 million kilowatt hours of wind and solar energies annually.

According to the WalletHub report, each American household spends at least $2,000 annually on utilities and another $1,968 on gasoline and oil, which is up $59 from last year. New technologies and energy-efficient measures can reduce household utility costs by up to 25 percent, and a fuel-efficient car could save drivers over $700 annually, says WalletHub. The report's experts advised in properly weatherproofing homes; smart technology, such as thermostats; solar panels; and more.

---

This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Climatetech incubator announces C-suite promotion, Houston jobs, and nonprofit transition

greentown updates

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

Photos: Houston coworking company expands with new location

open for biz

Calling all coworkers north of Houston — there's a new spot in town to set up shop.

The Cannon, a coworking company with locations in Houston and Galveston, has expanded north of Houston for the first time. A new Cannon workspace opened at The Park at Fish Creek retail center (618 Fish Creek Thoroughfare) in Montgomery last month. On February 1 at 4 pm, the new community is holding an open house to tour the space.

“The Cannon is a Houston innovation institution, and we meet demand where innovators and entrepreneurs live—in this case, Montgomery County,” says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. “The goal is to grow The Cannon community – and entrepreneurship overall – regionally, via the Fish Creek brick-and mortar space, and to also expand utilization of our digital community platform, Cannon Connect.”

With 8,100 square feet of space, the facility has 19 private offices, three conference rooms, and several gathering and working areas. Memberships — from assigned desks and private space to day passes — are now available. All Fish Creek members receive access to Cannon Connect, a global, digital community platform that provides resources, networking and building blocks for business growth.

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

This Houston entrepreneur is enabling fashion upcycling for more sustainable style

houston innovators podcast episode 170

When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.