Texas again ranks poorly for its energy efficiency

It's not easy being green

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

Despite some growth in the industry's regional job market, Texas fails to rise through the ranks of a national report on energy efficiency.

For the second year in a row, the Lone Star State has made the list of the states with the worst energy efficiency, according to a report for personal finance website, WalletHub. Last year, the state ranked No. 42 in the country; however, this year's study had Texas at No. 41 of the 48 states evaluated. Hawaii and Alaska were left out due to data restrictions.

The report, which was released just in time for National Energy Awareness Month, looked at consumer usage of home electricity, as well as oil and fuel for cars and trucks. According to the report, a United States family will spend around $2,000 annually on utilities — and heating and cooling makes up about half of that bill. On average in 2018, consumers spent another $2,109 on oil and fuel for their vehicles.

Adopting energy-efficient tools and practices could help reduce consumer cost by 25 percent for utilities and around $638 on the roads. Texas has seen a growth in the job market for positions relating to energy efficiency, according to a recent report. The number of energy-efficiency-oriented jobs across Texas rose by 5.3 percent last year to 162,816, according to the report, and energy-efficiency workers account for 17 percent of all energy workers in Texas, the report says.

Texas, with its hot climate and underdeveloped public transportation systems, scored only 36.48 total points on the WalletHub report, which is up slightly from last year's 33.34 points. The state ranked No. 36 on home energy efficiency and No. 45 for auto energy efficiency.

Texans drove over 270 billion miles last year and used over 20 billion gallons of gas, the second worst and worst rankings, respectively, among the states considered for this study.

While maybe the state isn't rising on this list of consumer energy efficiency yet, the state has seen great economic growth specifically in the wind energy industry. The American Wind Energy Association's annual report for 2018 shows the wind energy sector employs between 25,000 and 26,000 people in Houston and elsewhere in Texas, up from 24,000 to 25,000 in 2017, with the total investment in Texas wind energy projects sitting at a whopping $46.5 billion. More than one-fifth of wind energy jobs in the U.S. are located in Texas.

"Houston is actively working to grow this sector, so we hope people will seriously think of Houston when they think of renewables in this new era of energy," Davenport says at an April 9 news conference in Houston where the American Wind Energy Association released its 2018 state-of-the-industry report.

Houston has the most energy efficiency jobs out of other metros in Texas, which has the second-most energy efficiency jobs in the country. Getty Images

New report finds that Houston leads in Texas for energy efficiency jobs

Workforce growth

The Houston metro area has plugged into the power of jobs linked to energy efficiency. In fact, the region is home to more than one-fourth of Texas jobs that fall into this category.

A new report shows the Houston area leads all of the metros in Texas for the number of jobs tied to energy efficiency. The report tallied 43,730 Houston-area jobs connected to energy efficiency, compared with 41,235 in Dallas-Fort Worth, 15,872 in Austin, and 12,860 in San Antonio. The report was produced by the nonprofit groups E4TheFuture and E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs).

The number of energy-efficiency-oriented jobs across Texas rose by 5.3 percent last year to 162,816, according to the report. That puts Texas second among the states, behind California, for the total number of jobs in energy efficiency. Energy-efficiency workers account for 17 percent of all energy workers in Texas, the report says.

Of the energy-efficiency jobs in the Houston area, 15,806 are in the congressional district of U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Houston Republican. That's the highest number of any congressional district in the state. Crenshaw's district includes Houston, Spring, and Atascocita.

"Energy jobs are critical to our economy and must be a priority when considering any industry regulation coming out of Washington," Crenshaw says on his website. "We have to unleash the power of the Texas energy sector and become the world leader in energy that we are meant to be."

The report defines jobs in the energy-efficiency sector as those involving goods and services that reduce energy use by improving technology, appliances, buildings, and power systems. Among these positions are construction worker, architect, manufacturing sales representative, and HVAC specialist.

The report, released September 16 at the annual meeting of the National Association of State Energy Officials, highlights the economic potency of energy efficiency.

"While politicians argue over the direction of our energy transition, the economic benefits of improving energy efficiency continue to unite America's business and environmental interests," Pat Stanton, director of policy at E4TheFuture, says in a release. "Not only is expanding America's energy efficiency key to solving multiple climate policy goals, it is now integral to businesses' expansion plans — saving money and creating local jobs that cannot be outsourced."

In 2018, energy-efficiency businesses added 76,000 net new jobs, representing half of all net jobs created by the U.S. energy sector (151,700). About 28,900 energy-efficiency businesses operate in Texas, with the bulk of those in the construction and manufacturing industries.

The expansion of the energy-efficiency sector aligns with push by the Greater Houston Partnership to ramp up the region's focus on energy technology and renewable energy. This year, the partnership estimates, the Houston area will add 1,900 jobs in the energy industry.

Some of the new breed of energy-efficiency workers in the Houston area could come from San Jacinto College's new $60 million Center for Petrochemical, Energy, and Technology in Pasadena. The center's first students began classes in August.

"We all know energy efficiency saves consumers and businesses money with every month's power bill," Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, says in a release. "We should also remember that energy efficiency is creating jobs and driving economic growth in every state — and doing so while also helping our environment, not hurting it."

Energy-efficiency workers are helping the environment by, for instance, building LED lighting systems, retrofitting office buildings, upgrading outdated HVAC systems, and designing power-sipping appliances.

"State energy officials understand that energy efficiency and the jobs that come with it [are] an integral and important part of the overall economy," David Terry, executive director of the state energy officials group, says in a release. "Policymakers at the state and federal levels will hopefully keep the size and reach of energy-efficiency employment in mind as they plan for the future."

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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.