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.
Geothermal investment is up, but health tech is down — plus more data-backed VC trend from 2024 so far. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Houston's VC trends so far in 2024 and what to watch for the rest of the year

by the numbers

Houston-based geothermal company Fervo Energy accounted for more than half of the venture capital raised by Houston-area startups in the first quarter of 2024.

The region’s VC haul in the first quarter totaled $462.4 million, according to the PitchBook-NCVA Venture Monitor. That’s up from $290.4 million during the same period in 2023 and from $285.8 million in the fourth quarter of last year. Click here to see the Q1 rounds as reported by InnovationMap.

Fervo’s latest funding round, announced in February, represented $244 million (52 percent) of the region’s VC total for the first quarter of 2024.

A report released in March by PitchBook indicated that VC funding last year for geothermal power reached $431 million across 21 deals. As of late February 25 — four days ahead of the Fervo announcement — $165.5 million in VC funding had been pumped into the geothermal sector this year, according to PitchBook.

“The recent VC deal activity with the geothermal power sector underscores a vibrant and evolving market, but still one that garners far less VC than other renewables,” says the report.

In all, Houston-area startups made 38 VC deals in this year’s first quarter, the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor says. That’s down from 42 in the fourth quarter of 2023 and 43 in the first quarter of 2023. Nationwide, the deal count fell sharply in the first quarter of 2024 vs. the first and fourth quarters of last year.

The PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor report shows that nationwide, the $36.6 billion in VC investments recorded during the first quarter of 2024 “remained relatively on pace with the past year.”

“However, it would be a mistake to hyperfocus on the results of a single quarter whose results were a bit farther left on the bell curve than usual. The venture capital … business cycle effectively reset in recent years, and as of early 2024, it still appears to be searching for its level,” says the report.

“It is too early to tell where 2024 is going, but the game is on, and America’s VCs are ready for it,” the report adds. “In 2022, our world changed; in 2023, we accepted it was not changing back; and in 2024, we are building what is next.”

In a bit of good news for the Houston area, the report cites cleantech/energy as one of two sectors that venture capitalists should not overlook. The other sector: cybersecurity.

But in a bit of not-so-good news for the region, the report notes a slowdown in VC deals in the healthcare sector over the past two years in the wake of “pandemic-fueled capital exuberance.”

“Yet the healthcare sector differentiates itself from the rest of the market by demonstrating many unmet needs that could have a profound impact on society, particularly around disease diagnosis and treatment,” the report goes on to say. “On top of the immense opportunity set for disruption within healthcare, investor enthusiasm around AI adoption in drug development further speaks to the demand for better solutions in biotech through groundbreaking innovations.”

For the 2023 budget year, Texas’ total pot of federal money ranked second behind California’s. Photo via Getty Images

Texas attracts big percentage of government clean energy investment, says 2023 report

by the numbers

On a per-person basis, Texas grabbed the third-highest share of federal investment in clean energy and transportation during the government’s 2023 budget year, according to a new report.

Texas’ haul — $6.2 billion in federal investments, such as tax credits and grants — from October 1, 2022, to September 30, 2023, worked out to $204 per person, bested only by Wyoming ($369) and New Mexico ($259). That’s according to the latest Clean Investment Monitor report shows. Rhodium Group and MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research produced the report.

For the 2023 budget year, Texas’ total pot of federal money ranked second behind California’s ($7.5 billion), says the report. Nationwide, the federal government’s overall investment in clean energy and transportation reached $34 billion.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Public and private investment in clean energy and transportation soared to $239 billion in 2023, up 37 percent from the previous year.
  • Overall investment in utility-scale solar power and storage systems climbed to $53 billion in 2023, up more than 50 percent from the previous year.
  • Overall investment in emerging climate technologies (clean energy, sustainable aviation fuel, and carbon capture) during 2023 surpassed investment in wind energy for the first time. This pool of money expanded from $900 million in 2022 to $9.1 billion in 2023.

The Lone Star arm of the pro-environment Sierra Club says the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which took effect in 2022, “includes a dizzying number of programs and tax incentives” for renewable energy.

“While it will take several years for all the programs to be implemented, billions in tax incentives and tax breaks, along with specific programs focused on clean energy development, energy efficiency, onsite solar, and transmission upgrades, means that Texas could help lower costs and transform our electric grid,” says the Sierra Club.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Mercedes-Benz HPC North America says it will build EV charging hubs at most Buc-ee’s stores, starting with about 30 hubs by the end of 2024. Buc-ee's/Facebook

Texas gas station favorite plugs into partnership for EV chargers

eyes on ev

Buc-ee’s, the beloved Lake Jackson-based chain of convenience stores, has plugged into a partnership with a Mercedes-Benz business unit to install electric vehicle charging stations at Buc-ee’s locations.

Mercedes-Benz HPC North America says it will build EV charging hubs at most Buc-ee’s stores, starting with about 30 hubs by the end of 2024. Some Buc-ee’s hubs already are being set up and are scheduled to begin supplying EV power by the end of this year.

Mercedes-Benz HPC, a subsidiary of the German automaker, is developing a U.S. and Canadian network of EV charging stations. All of the stations will run solely on renewable energy.

“Buc-ee’s values people and partnerships,” Jeff Nadalo, general counsel at Buc-ee’s, says in a news release. “Our new collaboration with Mercedes-Benz HPC North America will continue our traditions of elevated customer convenience and excellent service that have won the hearts, trust, and business of millions in the South for more than 40 years.”

Buc-ee’s — hailed for its squeaky-clean restrooms, abundance of fuel pumps, and unique food — operates 34 supersized convenience stores in Texas and 12 locations in other states. Another seven locations are under construction in Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri.

“Mercedes-Benz HPC North America's collaboration with Buc-ee’s represents an important moment in our pursuit of a national charging network that sets a new standard in both convenience and quality,” says Andrew Cornelia, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz HPC.

“Within a remarkably short period,” Cornelia adds, “we’ve made significant strides towards opening several charging hubs at Buc-ee’s travel centers. Buc-ee’s strategic locations along major travel routes, combined with their commitment to clean and accessible amenities, aligns perfectly with our vision.”

In January 2023, Mercedes-Benz announced plans to install 10,000 EV chargers worldwide, including North America, Europe, and China. Mercedes-Benz drivers will be able to book a charging station from their car, but the network will be available to all motorists.

“The locations and surroundings of the Mercedes-Benz charging hubs will be carefully selected with wider customer needs in mind. Our best possible charging experience will therefore come with food outlets and restrooms situated nearby,” says Mercedes-Benz HPC.

Each hub will feature four to 12 chargers and ultimately as many as 30 chargers.

Mercedes-Benz says more than $1 billion is being invested in the North American charging network, which is set to be completed by 2029 or 2030. The cost will be split between the automaker and solar power producer MN8 Energy, a New York City-based spinoff of banking giant Goldman Sachs.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The question the Houston business community must be able to answer today is “Are we going to be ready for 2035?” Photo via Getty Images

Expert: Houston's at a critical inflection point amid energy transition

guest column

In 1914, Winston Churchill faced a difficult decision. Over two decades before his first term as Prime Minister during World War 2, he oversaw the entire Royal Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty. Shipbuilding technology was rapidly evolving in that era and one of the key questions was whether to use coal or oil as fuel for the large ships in the fleet. Coal was the more proven technology at that point and the British had a strong supply chain across the Empire. Oil was lighter and easier to operate, but the worldwide supply and infrastructure were still limited.

Ultimately Churchill was persuaded by Admiral Jacky Fisher and others to convert the entire fleet to oil. To resolve the supply chain issue, the British government bought a majority stake in Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which became BP. The Royal Navy was possibly the largest consumer of fuel worldwide at the time, so this decision had a major effect on the energy transition in that era. Within 30 years, steam engines were no longer used for transportation in most of the world.

In that same decade, Houston emerged as a leading energy hub in the United States: Humble Oil was founded, the Houston Ship Channel was dredged, and the Baytown Refinery was constructed. World War I in Europe, and the mass adoption of cars in the US spurred a major increase in demand for oil. Oil went on to dominate the global energy market, providing cheap and reliable transportation, industrial production, and materials. Houston grew and prospered along with it to become the 5th largest metro area in the country today.

Over a century later, the global energy industry may be at a similar inflection point. According to IEA, the electric vehicle market more than tripled from 4 percent in 2020 to 9 percent in 2021 to 14 percent in 2022. Major automakers like GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Volvo have pledged to become all-electric by early-to-mid 2030s. Similar commitments are being made in commercial trucking and shipping.

At the same time, the electric power grids in the United States and many other nations are undergoing a rapid shift to renewable energy. Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) report showed that by 2015, wind and utility-scale solar power in the US were cheaper than all other technologies on a $/MWh basis; the gap has only grown wider since. EIA data on new power generation capacity in the US for 2020-2023 shows that solar, wind, and energy storage combined have ranged from 74 percent to 81 percent while natural gas has ranged from 14 percent to 22 percent and other fuels less than 5 percent.

All of these figures show market trends that are already happening, not projections of what may happen if the technologies improve. This leads to a natural question: will the growth of EVs and renewable energy reach a limit and tail off? Or will this trend continue until the internal combustion engine and fossil fuel power are replaced like steam engines were before? Both EVs and renewable energy are experiencing insatiable market demand in developed markets but have hit other barriers such as supply chain and infrastructure. However, just as the oil industry itself demonstrated in the past, those constraints can be overcome if the push is strong enough.

The year 2035, only 12 years away, is a major deadline for the transition. The US government and the EU have both set it as a target to complete the transition to EVs. In the US electric power industry, BloombergNEF projects that 126 GW of US coal power will retire before then. S&P also forecasts 85 GW of new energy storage will be online, which will help resolve intermittency and transmission issues that have limited the role of renewable energy up to now. That paints a picture of a radically different energy industry from the one we see today; one with oil demand at a fraction of its current levels and natural gas demand in rapid decline as well.

These market trends have drawn a variety of responses in Houston and other energy hubs, ranging from enthusiastic adoption to cautious skepticism to firm denial. Two recent examples of this range are BP CEO Bernard Looney advocating for continued investment in renewable energy and Shell CEO Wael Sawan emphasizing a move away from them due to lower returns. Business leaders should always be aware of threats to their long-term operations, regardless of their personal opinions on an issue. While demand for oil generally remains strong, every business in the energy industry should be prepared for the scenario that all new cars sold in a decade are electric. There is a graveyard of companies like Kodak, Sears, and Blockbuster Video that failed to act on an existential market threat until it was too late.

Plans for the transition can look different from company to company, but Houston is full of resources that can help with planning and deployment. The workforce, financial sector, and professional services can adapt to new energy technologies from their existing oil and gas expertise. Industry organizations like the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, Renewable Energy Alliance Houston, and the energy policy centers at Rice University and the University of Houston can help leaders make connections and discuss new technologies.

The burden is on every business leader to make use of the time remaining, not only to make plans for the changes coming in the energy industry, but to implement those plans. The question the Houston business community must be able to answer today is “Are we going to be ready for 2035?”

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Drew Philpot is president of Blended Power, a renewable energy consulting practice based in Houston. This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Currently, methane leak detection requires human evaluation. With this innovative new company's tech, this process can be automated. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup advances in Chevron's unique business accelerator

scaling up

A Houston startup that is developing a technology to detect methane leaks has moved on to phase two in Chevron's unique business accelerator.

Aquanta Vision Technologies, a Houston-based climate-tech startup, was selected to participate in the scale-up phase of Chevron Studio, a Houston program that matches entrepreneurs with technologies to turn them into businesses. Aquanta's computer vision software completely automates the identification of methane in optical gas imaging, or OGI. The technology originated from Colorado State University and CSU STRATA Technology Transfer.

Babur Ozden, a tech startup entrepreneur, along with Marcus Martinez, the lead inventor and Dan Zimmerle, co-inventor and director of METEC at CSU Energy Institute, came up with the technology to identify the presence and motion of methane in live video streams. Currently, this process of identifying methane requires a human camera operator to interpret the images. This can often be unreliable in the collection of emissions data.

Babur Ozden is the founder of Aquanta Vision. Photo via LinkedIn

Aquanta’s technology requires no human intervention and is universally compatible with all OGI cameras. Currently, only about 10 percent of the 20.5 million surveys done worldwide use this type of technology as it is extremely expensive to produce. Ozden said he hopes Aquanta will change that model.

“What we are doing — we are democratizing this feature, this capability, independent of the camera make and model,” Ozden tells EnergyCapital.

Aquanta’s software will be downloadable from App stores to the technician’s computers or phones.

“Our goal is to eliminate the absolute reliance of human interpretation and to give operators a chance to make detections faster and more accurately,” Ozden says.

“Our ultimate ambition is to reduce our footprint.” he continues. “Companies like Chevron and other leading players in the oil and gas industry are becoming much more committed (to reducing emissions)."

Aquanta will now test its software under various scenarios and develop an early commercial version of the product. In the next and final phase of the program, the company will begin marketing the technology for commercial use.

The goal of Chevron Studio is to take innovative new technologies out of the labs at universities and to scale them up to commercial ventures. The company takes the intellectual property developed at these labs and provides a platform to match entrepreneurs with the technology. The program provides funding to take the technologies from the very beginning to pilot and field trials. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, manages Chevron Studio and works closely with the entrepreneurs to guide them through the program.

Gautam Phanse, the strategic relations manager for Chevron Technology Ventures says he was impressed with Ozden’s background as an entrepreneur and in the technology he brought to the table.

“We are looking at experienced entrepreneurs. People who can take an idea and stand on their own and develop it into a business,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Earlier this year, Phanse spoke to InnovationMap about Chevron Studio and its mission to match entrepreneurs with promising technologies coming out of universities and labs. He said the current focus areas for Chevron Studio are: carbon utilization, hydrogen and renewable energy, energy storage systems and solutions for circular economy.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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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.