Houston is primed to become an energy tech hub amid ongoing energy transition.

As the energy capital of the world, Houston has been a long-time leader in the energy industry, particularly oil and gas. With cutting-edge research and technological breakthroughs, unique talent of energy veterans and engineering know-how, the city is swiftly developing into a booming energy technology hub.

Houston’s R&D, talent pool, energy infrastructure, and favorable business environment is fostering the growth of technology-driven energy initiatives. These factors differentiate Houston's energy tech ecosystem from other tech hubs in the U.S., in similar ways to how Silicon Valley has been known for technology and software and Boston and New York for biotech and fintech ecosystems, respectively.

Primarily, Houston's proximity to major energy players has played a crucial role in its evolution as an energy technology hub. Around 34 percent of all publicly traded oil and gas companies in the U.S. are headquartered in the city. Even the energy companies that are headquartered outside of Houston (e.g., Exelon, Duke Energy, and NextEra Energy) have established their energy transition headquarters and plants/infrastructure here. This proximity enables energy technology startups easy access to market, expertise, resources, and funding, fostering a vibrant ecosystem that supports their growth.

Moreover, with an expanding network of academic and commercial R&D activity, the city has become a rising hub of technological development. It currently houses more than 21 business research centers focusing on various aspects related to energy transition through design, prototype, and applied intelligence studios.

For instance, the Greater Houston Partnership, a key organization in promoting Houston’s economic growth, has been actively involved in positioning the city as a leader in the global energy transition space. Some of the notable green energy startups leading Houston’s energy transition are Sunnova, Solugen, Fervo Energy, Syzygy Plasmonics, Ionada, and Energy Transition Ventures.

The emergence of startup development organizations throughout the city, including workplaces, incubators, and accelerators, in recent years has fostered collaboration among founders, investors, and talent, thereby accelerating the rate of business formation and growth. Accelerators and incubators such as Halliburton Labs, Greentown Labs, The Ion District, and Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator are key supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship in Houston’s energy technology landscape.

In addition, government funding is catalyzing Houston’s growth in energy tech. Most prominently, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is likely to stimulate greater investment in solar and wind energy, charging infrastructure, and electric vehicles in Houston. It will support the city’s R&D institutions and technology developers in pioneering energy transition for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCS/CCUS), hydrogen, and renewable fuels, resulting in a 13-fold increase in capital expenditure for infrastructure between 2024 and 2035.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) also focus on promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies, many of which are coming out of Houston.

Further, Houston has a strong talent pool with a workforce of three million individuals and the fourth largest concentration of engineers in the US. In 2022, the growth rate of tech employment in the region was 3.5 percent while the national growth rate was 3.2 percent.

The energy industry, research institutions, and government are coming together in Houston to propel it to become a leader in energy technology. However, the city still has a ways to go: Houston needs to build more in non-traditional energy sectors (e.g. wind, solar, etc.), attract more entrepreneurs to start companies here, and get more investors to invest here. Having successful energy tech exits and reinvestment in new startups here would help.

Houston has tremendous potential to lead energy technology, and with the rapidly growing focus of research, businesses, and government policies on energy transition. The confluence of energy tech players coming together in Houston is driving its evolution as an energy tech hub, making it an exciting place for new technologies and businesses to develop and grow, and reinvest in Houston.

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Michael Torosian is a partner in the corporate practice in the San Francisco office of Baker Botts. He is outside general counsel to emerging companies and their investors and advisors at all stages.

Only time will tell, but this expert believes the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will be a boon to energy tech startups in Texas. Photo via Getty Images

Expert: How recent inflation legislation could affect Texas energy startups, investors

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The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 includes $369 billion in investment in climate and energy policies, the largest investment in United States history to address climate change. The IRA could be a boon to Texas startups involved in clean energy, clean manufacturing and clean innovation.

Government policy and funding are critical to supporting the research and development for new technologies, which solve complex challenges and require significant upfront and long-term commitments of investment. Early government investment gives private investors more incentive to invest in the later commercialization and scaling of these businesses, and has a multiplier effect in accelerating the development, commercialization, and deployment of new technologies in the time needed in the market to capitalize on energy business opportunities and achieve climate goals.

The IRA’s biggest impact on climate tech businesses is through tax credits and direct investment. The IRA’s expanded tax credits will make it easier to fund and build projects, help reduce cost of construction, and help make renewable energy projects more competitive, encourage more funding and building of new projects, and bring new jobs and economic development. The IRA’s direct investments allow for companies developing new technologies to obtain grants and loans that help them develop their solutions while not diluting their investors, helping them build more value in their businesses and making them more attractive for later investment.

Texas is well positioned to be an energy transition and clean energy leader and beneficiary of the IRA. The state is home to major energy companies, and their technical expertise, know-how and experience in energy, and energy technology is unparalleled. There is huge momentum in innovation in energy transition and energy tech, and there is great research coming out of university and corporate R&D programs. For example, Texas is home to more than 20 energy-focused research and development centers and dozens of energy tech companies. And Texas is already the largest producer of wind power in the U.S.

Texas startups across industries were already attracting massive investment before the IRA became law. According to Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association, Texas startups overall raised a record-high $10.55 billion in venture capital in 2021, an increase of 123 percent from 2020’s $4.73 billion.

Early-stage investment in climate tech hit a record $53.7 billion in 2021. While the totals this year aren’t likely to reach 2021 levels, climate tech investors have said they aren’t seeing the size of pullbacks and slowdowns in other sectors. Despite the VC slowdown this year, clean tech and climate tech have remained attractive investments. This includes Texas. For example, the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator reported in August that 17 of its early- to mid-stage startups have already raised more than $54.5 million this year. Also in August, geothermal startup Fervo Energy, based in Houston, raised $138 million in new VC funding. Earlier in February, Houston’s Zeta Energy, which has developed a battery for the electric vehicle and energy storage markets, closed a $23 million financing round. We expect continued funding in this space.

Large corporates in Texas are building external innovation programs such as venture arms and accelerators. For instance, Houston’s Halliburton Company developed Halliburton Labs, an accelerator that has backed a number of startups in the carbon capture, clean hydrogen, and solar energy tech developers. Big energy companies are also joining Texas-based accelerator hubs such as The Ion in Houston. The Ion’s founding partners include Aramco Americas, Chevron Technology Ventures, and ExxonMobil.

It will require long term efforts to achieve results in climate tech and clean energy projects, but as the benefits of the IRA materialize, more startups in Texas will have the ability to obtain more long-term financial support and resources from all of the sources – government, universities, and research organizations, venture investors and corporations — that are required to develop solutions to the energy and climate challenges and capitalize on the business opportunities of today and tomorrow. Startups are creating transformative innovations that are key to the United States being a leader in clean energy and fighting climate change. And there’s no better place to do that than in Texas.

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Michael Torosian is a partner in the corporate practice in the San Francisco office of Baker Botts. He is outside general counsel to emerging companies and their investors and advisors at all stages.

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Power grid tech co. with Houston HQ raises $25M series B

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A Norway-based provider of technology for power grids whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston has raised a $25 million series B round of funding.

The venture capital arm of Polish energy giant Orlen, Norwegian cleantech fund NRP Zero, and the Norway-based Steinsvik Family Office co-led Heimdall Energy's round. Existing investors, including Investinor, Ebony, Hafslund, Lyse, and Sarsia Seed, chipped in $8.5 million of the $25 million round.

“This funding gives us fuel to grow internationally, as we continue to build our organization with the best people and industry experts in the world,” Jørgen Festervoll, CEO of Heimdall, says in a news release.

Founded in 2016, Heimdall supplies software and sensors for monitoring overhead power lines. The company says its technology can generate up to 40 percent in additional transmission capacity from existing power lines.

Heimdall entered the U.S. market in 2023 with the opening of its Houston office after operating for several years in the European market.

“Heimdall Power has built itself a unique position as an enabler for the ongoing energy transition, with fast-increasing electricity demand and queues of renewables waiting to get connected,” says Marek Garniewski, president of Orlen’s VC fund.

Heimdall says it will put the fresh funding toward scaling up production and installation of its “magic ball” sphere-shaped sensors. In the U.S., these sensors help operators of power grids maximize the capacity of the aging power infrastructure.

“In the United States alone, there are over 500,000 miles of power lines — most of which have a far higher transmission capacity than grid operators have historically been able to realize. To increase capacity, many have launched large-scale and expensive infrastructure projects,” Heimdall says.

Now, the U.S. government has stepped in to ensure that utilities are gaining more capacity from the existing infrastructure, aiming to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission lines over the next five years.

Heimdall's technology enables grid operators and utilities to boost transmission capacity without undertaking lengthy, costly infrastructure projects. Earlier this year, the company kicked off the largest grid optimization project in the U.S. with Minnesota-based Great River Energy.

Houston energy data SaaS co. partners with trading platform

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In an effort to consolidate and improve energy data and forecasting, a Houston software company has expanded to a new platform.

Amperon announced that it has expanded its AI-powered energy forecaststoSnowflake Marketplace, an AI data cloud company. With the collaboration, joint customers can seamlessly integrate accurate energy forecasts into power market trading. The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector.

“As Amperon continues to modernize energy data and AI infrastructure, we’re excited to partner with Snowflake to bring the most accurate energy forecasts into a single data experience that spans multiple clouds and geographies," Alex Robart, chief revenue officer at Amperon, says in a news release. "By doing so, we’re bringing energy forecasts to where they will be accessible to more energy companies looking to increase performance and reliability."

Together, the combined technology can move the needle on enhanced accuracy in forecasting that strengthens grid reliability, manages monetary risk, and advances decarbonization.

“This partnership signifies Amperon’s commitment to deliver world-class data-driven energy management solutions," Titiaan Palazzi, head of power and Utilities at Snowflake, adds. "Together, we are helping organizations to easily and securely access the necessary insights to manage risk and maximize profitability in the energy transition."

With Amperon's integrated short-term demand and renewables forecasts, Snowflake users can optimize power markets trading activity and manage load risk.

"Amperon on Snowflake enables us to easily integrate our different data streams into a single unified view," Jack Wang, senior power trader and head of US Power Analysis at Axpo, says. "We value having complete access and control over our analytics and visualization tools. Snowflake allows us to quickly track and analyze the evolution of every forecast Amperon generates, which ultimately leads to better insights into our trading strategy."

Amperon, which recently expanded operations to Europe, closed a $20 million series B round last fall led by Energize Capital and tripled its team in the past year and a half.

In March, Amperon announced that it replatformed its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure.

Learn more about the company on the Houston Innovators Podcast episode with Sean Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Amperon.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Rice research on bond and stock market differences, earnings variations

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At the end of every quarter, publicly traded companies announce their profits and losses in an earnings report. These updates provide insight into a company’s performance and, in theory, give investors and shareholders clarity on whether to buy, sell or hold. If earnings are good, the stock price may soar. If they’re down, the price might plunge.

However, the implications for the stock price may not be immediately clear to all investors. In the face of this uncertainty, sellers will ask for high prices, and buyers will offer low ones, creating a significant “bid-ask spread.” When this happens, it becomes more costly to trade, and the stock becomes less liquid.

This is a well-documented effect on equity stock markets. However, according to research by Stefan Huber (Rice Business), Chongho Kim (Seoul National University) and Edward M. Watts (Yale SOM), the corporate bond market responds differently to earnings news. This is because bond markets differ from stock markets in a significant way.

Stocks v. Bonds: What Happens When Earnings Are Announced?

Equities are usually traded on centralized exchanges (e.g., New York Stock Exchange). The exchange automatically queues up buyers and sellers according to the quote they’ve entered. Trades are executed electronically, and the parties involved are typically anonymous. A prospective buyer might purchase Microsoft shares from someone drawing down their 401(k) — or they could be buying from Bill Gates himself.

Corporate bond markets work differently. They are “over-the-counter” (OTC) markets, meaning a buyer or seller needs to find a counterparty to trade with. This involves getting quotes from and negotiating with potential counterparties. This is an inherent friction in bond trading that results in much higher costs of trading in the form of wider bid-ask spreads.

Here’s what Huber and his colleagues learned from the research: Earnings announcements prompt many investors to trade. And on OTC markets, potential buyers and sellers become easier to find and negotiate with.

A Stronger Bargaining Position for Bonds

According to Huber, “When earnings information comes out, a lot of people want to trade. In bond markets, that makes it much easier to find someone to trade with. The more options you have to trade, the stronger your bargaining position becomes, and the lower your trading costs go.”

He compares the process to shopping in a market with a flexible approach to pricing.

“Let's say you're at a farmers market and you want to buy an apple,” Huber says. “If there is only one seller, you buy the apple from that person. They can ask for whatever price they want. But if there are multiple sellers, you can ask around, and there is potential to get a better price. The price you get depends on the number of options you have in trading partners.”

What’s at Stake?

Although bonds receive less attention than equities, the stakes are high. There is about $10 trillion in outstanding corporate debt in the U.S., and more than $34 billion in average daily trading volume.

A detailed record of bond trades is available from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which requires that trades be reported via their Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (TRACE).

The study from Huber and co-authors uses an enhanced version of TRACE to examine trades executed between 2002 and 2020. The team analyzed the thirty-day periods before and after earnings announcements to gather data about volume, bid-ask spreads and other measures of liquidity.

They find that, like on the stock market, there are more investors and broker-dealers trading bonds around earnings announcements. However, unlike on the stock market, transaction costs for bonds decrease by 6 to 7 percent in the form of bid-ask spreads.

What Sets This Research Apart?

“Taking a purely information asymmetry-based view would predict that what happens to stock liquidity would also happen to bonds,” Huber says. “A piece of information drops, and some people are better able to work with it, so others price protect, and bid-ask spreads and the cost of trading go up.”

“But if you consider the search and bargaining frictions in bond markets, you get a more nuanced picture. While information asymmetry increases, like it does on stock markets, the information prompts more investors into bond trading, which makes it easier to find counterparties and get better transaction prices. Consequently, bid-ask spreads go down. This search and bargaining friction does not really exist on equities exchanges. But we cannot ignore it in OTC markets.”

As corporate debt markets continue to grow in importance, it will become crucial for investors and regulators to understand the nuanced factors influencing their liquidity. This study provides a solid foundation for future research.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom. For more, see “Earnings News and Over-the-Counter Markets.” Journal of Accounting Research 62.2 (2024): 701-35.