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.

How's startup life in Texas? Well, it's the best in the nation, according to a new ranking. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Texas ranks as the best state to start a business

lone star startups

If you're a Texan looking to launch a startup, you appear to be in the right place.

Personal finance website WalletHub puts Texas at No. 1 in its new ranking of the best and worst states for starting a business. Across the 50 states, WalletHub compared 28 key indicators of startup success to come up with the list.

In the general bucket for "business environment," Texas ranked second. It dropped to 12th in the "access to resources" category and 32nd in the "business costs" category. Digging deeper, Texas appears at No. 4 for the average length of the workweek, No. 5 for the highest total spending on incentives as a percentage of GDP, and No. 6 for average growth in number of small businesses. However, Texas scored a below-average 29th-place ranking for labor costs.

"Choosing the right state for a business is … crucial to its success," WalletHub explains. "A state that provides the ideal conditions for business creation — access to cash, skilled workers, and affordable office space, for instance — can help new ventures not only take off but also thrive."

The WalletHub accolade follows a handful of other recent plaudits for Texas' business-friendly environment.

In March, Site Selection magazine awarded its Governor's Cup to Texas. The Governor's Cup honors the top states for job creation and capital investment.

"Despite the challenges faced from the COVID-19 pandemic, we've seen what Texas can achieve when we foster an environment that empowers people to succeed," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement about the Governor's Cup win. "The Texas model continues to inspire entrepreneurs and innovators and attract job creators from across the country, and I look forward to spurring more job growth and opportunity for all Texans in every corner of our great state."

A month later, Chief Executive magazine crowned Texas the best state for business for the 17th consecutive year.

But Texas ranked fourth in CNBC's recent rundown of the top states for business in 2021. "A fourth-place finish would be good for most states, but not Texas. This year's finish ties for the worst-ever for the four-time Top State, which last won in 2018," CNBC says.

CNBC says Texas finished fourth based on the strength of its workforce and economy.

"But Texas was hurt this year by policies that run counter to the study's increased focus on inclusiveness," adds CNBC, pointing out that Abbott is pressing ahead with these policies during the current special session of the Texas Legislature.

Abbott's agenda for the special session includes legislation that critics view as watering down voting rights, attacking public school education about racism, and punishing transgender competitors in school sports. Supporters say these measures would preserve election integrity, strip critical race theory from public education in Texas, and protect females participating in school sports whose gender identity aligns with their birth gender.

NRG's sole HQ will be in Houston. NRG.com

Energy giant makes Houston sole headquarters in massive move

HQ move

Power player NRG Energy is laser focused on Houston. The Bayou City will be the energy giant's new sole headquarters; the company will no longer split between Houston and Princeton, New Jersey.

The move to a single headquarters simplifies business operations, as a large number of the company's employees and customers reside in Texas, the company noted in a press release and report.

The company, having recently acquired Direct Energy, will maintain regional offices in the markets that it serves and "evaluate real estate needs and consolidate as appropriate," the report adds.

Mayor Sylvester Turner welcomed the news in a statement, relaying that he and his team have had "substantive conversations" with NRG president and CEO Mauricio Gutierrez. "I believe the decision is confirmation that Houston is a smart city for business," said Turner.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also chimed in, adding in part:

With this move, NRG joins 50 other Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Texas, including 22 in the Houston area alone. America's leading businesses continue to invest in Texas — and grow jobs in Texas — because of our welcoming business climate, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and our young, growing, and skilled workforce.
I thank NRG Energy for designating Texas — the energy capital of the world — as their corporate headquarters, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we ensure a more prosperous future for all who call the Lone Star State home.

Turner noted that more than a year ago, the City of Houston committed to purchasing 100 percent renewable energy through a renewed partnership with NRG Energy as the City's retail electric provider. "The plan is helping us build a more sustainable future, save over $9 million on our electric bill, and reduce emissions," he said.

NRG Energy boasts some 3,000 employees in Houston alone. In its report, the company reported a net loss of $83 million due the impact of Winter Storm Uri.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Nearly 4 million people became Texans in the past decade. Courtesy photo

Texas explodes with 16 percent surge in population, new census data shows

Growth spurt

Texas' population swelled so much from 2010 to 2020 that it essentially swallowed a state the size of Oklahoma.

Figures released April 26 by the U.S. Census Bureau show Texas gained 3,999,944 residents from April 2010 to April 2020. By comparison, the entire population of Oklahoma totaled 3,959,353 in April 2020. Those nearly 4 million new residents brought Texas' population to 29,145,505 as of April 2020.

Buoyed by a spike in the Hispanic population and an influx of out-of-state and international arrivals, Texas led the nation for the sheer number of residents added from the every-10-years headcount in 2010 to the headcount in 2020. Florida ranked second in that category (2,736,877), and California ranked third (2,284,267).

"The growth for Texas was a little bit slower than expected, which may be a function of lower fertility rates post-Great Recession and slower international migration," Lloyd Potter, the Texas state demographer, tells CultureMap.

California still remains the biggest state as measured by population (39,538,223). However, the Quartz news website reported in 2019 that Texas' population could surpass California's by 2045.

Meanwhile, Texas holds the No. 3 position for percentage population growth from 2010 to 2020, according to Census Bureau data. The state's population shot up by 15.9 percent during that period, behind only Utah (18.4 percent) and Idaho (17.3 percent). By contrast, California saw its population climb by just 6.1 percent from 2010 to 2020.

As a result of population shifts across the country, Texas will pick up two seats in the U.S. House, bringing its total to 38, the Census Bureau says. Five states will add one seat each: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon. Seven states will lose one seat each: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Based on earlier population estimates, experts had expected Texas to tack on three congressional seats following the 2020 Census. But Potter says Texas' growth relative to population changes in other states pared the Lone Star State's final tally to two more seats.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Millennials moved to Texas more than any other state in 2019, including Houston. Sean Pavone/Getty Images

Houston lands on list of nation's top spots for millennials on the move

migration destination

The Bayou City is shining as an attractive destination for young people on the move.

According to the fifth-annual study from SmartAsset, millennials are fleeing cities like Los Angeles and Chicago and migrating to other areas in search of work and a better quality of life, with Houston landing as the No. 18 spot for young professionals age 25 to 39.

In order to compile the list, SmartAsset dug into U.S. Census Bureau data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 180 specific cities. According to the findings, 18,035 millennials moved in to Houston in 2019, while 15,838 moved out. That makes a net migration of 2,197, per the study.

When it comes to migrating millennials, the Lone Star State is tops, landing at No. 1 for states where millennials are moving, with more than 187,000 young people heading to Texas in the pre-pandemic year. Though some 154,000 millennials left Texas during the same time period, this results in a net gain of more than 33,000 millennial residents, the biggest net gain for the group in the country, giving Texas the lead in millennial migration for the second year in a row.

In news that is hardly shocking, Austin landing as the No. 4 hot spot overall.

While Austin ranks as the top Texas city where millennials are moving, one other Texas spot landed in the top 10, the Dallas suburb of Frisco (No. 6), with a net migration of 3,516 out-of-state millennials in 2019.

Dallas just missed the top 10, landing at No. 11 on the list, with a net millennial migration of 2,525 in 2019. San Antonio (No. 22) showed a net migration of 1,865 millennials.

The top city overall for millennial migration in 2019 was Denver, followed by Seattle.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Work and family are top causes of stress for Texans. Photo via Getty Images

Texans among the most stressed-out people in America, says new study

high anxiety

No wonder nearly 40 percent of Texans have packed on the pounds during the coronavirus pandemic. It turns out Texas ranks as the 10th most stressed-out state in the country.

A new study by personal finance website WalletHub indicates Texas' sixth-place ranking for work-related stress and its seventh-place ranking for family-related stress contribute heavily to the state's No. 10 position on the stress-o-meter. Texas shows up at No. 11 for health- and safety-related stress, and No. 30 for money-related stress.

Experts say a high level of work-related stress, as is the case in Texas, can be connected to weight fluctuations. In a survey by the FitRated website for fitness equipment reviews, one-fourth of full-time workers reported changing their eating habits due to work-related stress.

"If you're stressed at work, you might … notice a shift in your appetite. For some people, stress-related eating can reflect a loss of appetite or the craving for comfort food," according to the Weatherford-based American Institute of Stress.

WalletHub looked at 41 indicators of stress for the study, including average hours worked per week, personal bankruptcy rate, and share of adults getting adequate sleep. Texas shows up at No. 4 for both the most average hours worked per week and the lowest credit scores. Here's how Texas fares in other parts of the study, with a No. 1 rank signaling the most stress:

  • No. 8 for share of adults in fair or poor health.
  • No. 13 for share of population living in poverty.
  • No. 14 for crime rate per capita.
  • No. 19 for psychologists per capita.
  • No. 25 for divorce rate.
  • No. 28 for job security.
  • No. 30 for housing affordability.

Nevada tops WalletHub's list of the most stressed-out states; South Dakota sits at the opposite end of the stress spectrum.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Report: Texas is home to a not-so happy workforce

by the numbers

Call it the Bayou City Blues. A report from job website Lensa ranks Houston third among the U.S. cities with the unhappiest workers.

The report looks at four factors — vacation days taken, hours worked per week, average pay, and overall happiness — to determine the happiest and unhappiest cities for U.S. workers.

Lensa examined data for 30 major cities, including Dallas and San Antonio. Dallas appears at the top of the list of the cities with the unhappiest workers, and San Antonio lands at No. 8.

Minneapolis ranks first among the cities with the happiest workers.

Here's how Houston fared in the four ranking categories:

  • 16.6 million unused vacation days per year.
  • 40.1 average hours worked per week.
  • Median annual pay of $32,251.
  • Happiness score of out of 50.83.

Dallas had 19.4 million unused vacation days per year, 40.5 average hours worked per week, median annual pay of $34,479, and a happiness score of 53.3 out of 100.

Meanwhile, San Antonio had 5.7 million unused vacation days per year, 39.2 average hours worked per week, median annual pay of $25,894, and a happiness score of 48.61.

Texas tops Lensa's list of the states with the unhappiest workers.

"While the Lone Star State had a decent happiness score of 52.56 out of 100, it scored poorly on each of the other factors, with Texans allowing an incredible 67.1 million earned vacation days go to waste over the course of a year," Lensa says.

In terms of general happiness, Houston shows up at No. 123 on WalletHub's most recent list of the happiest U.S. cities. Dallas takes the No. 104 spot, and San Antonio lands at No. 141. Fremont, California, grabs the No. 1 ranking.

Rice rises to top of new ranking of Texas colleges and universities

hoot there it is

If Texas had one Ivy League school, it would have to be Rice University.

Time after time, the Houston school ranks as the best college or university in Texas and one of the best in the country. Personal finance website WalletHub just added to Rice's accolades with a No. 1 ranking in Texas and a No. 6 ranking nationally among colleges and universities.

In Texas, Rice appears at No. 1 for admission rate, graduation rate, gender and racial diversity, and post-school median salary. Not every ranking is that stellar, though. Rice ranks 50th for on-campus crime among 55 Texas schools and 52nd for net cost.

More students soon will be able to take advantage of Rice's top-tier education. In March, the school said it would enlarge its undergraduate enrollment by 20 percent — to 4,800 — by the fall of 2025, up from more than 4,200 in the fall of 2020.

In a news release, Robert Ladd, chairman of the Rice Board of Trustees, called expansion of the student body "a strategic imperative."

"Expanding the student body now will also expand Rice's future alumni base across the nation and around the world," he added. "Welcoming more students to the Rice campus today will have an impact on the university for generations to come."

Elsewhere on the WalletHub list, the University of Houston lands at No. 10 within Texas and No. 238 in the country.

To determine the top-performing schools, WalletHub compared more than 1,000 institutions in the U.S. across 30 key measures, including student-to-faculty ratio, graduation rate, and post-school median salary.

Here are the top 15 colleges and universities in Texas, according to WalletHub, along with their national rankings:

  1. Rice University, No. 6 nationally.
  2. University of Texas at Austin, No. 45 nationally.
  3. Trinity University in San Antonio, No. 61 nationally.
  4. Texas A&M University in College Station, No. 127 nationally.
  5. Southwestern University in Georgetown, No. 144 nationally.
  6. University of Dallas, No. 152 nationally.
  7. Southern Methodist University in University Park, No. 178 nationally.
  8. Austin College in Sherman, No. 192 nationally.
  9. LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 231 nationally.
  10. University of Houston, No. 238 nationally.
  11. University of Texas at Dallas, No. 252 nationally.
  12. Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, No. 253 nationally.
  13. Baylor University in Waco, No. 357 nationally.
  14. Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, No. 375 nationally.
  15. Southwest Adventist University in Keene, No. 407 nationally.
------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

With $150M in VC raise, this Houston company is re-envisioning the future of e-commerce operations

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 106

If you're operating a business that sells a product online, you have several options for software to support your efforts and needs as a merchant. However, as one group of Houston entrepreneurs realized, there wasn't a streamlined, one-stop-shop for e-commerce software. That is until Cart.com launched just over a year ago.

And it's been a busy year. The startup is led by CEO Omair Tariq, Chief Commercial Officer Remington Tonar, who previously served in a few leadership roles at The Cannon, and a several other co-founders and C-level execs. Following strategic growth and several acquisitions, the Houston e-commerce software provider now employs over 300 people and has raised around $150 million in venture capital. The suite of software services includes everything a company needs — from managing a storefront to collecting important data and metrics.

"Our platform is really geared toward ambitious companies that have their foot in the door, have sales, and have product-market fit, and now need to level up," says Tonar on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "E-commerce as an industry is highly fragmented — you have so many players, but they don't play well together. Through our end-to-end offering, we are bringing all these things together."

Described as a competitor to Amazon, Cart.com connects the dots for e-commerce companies, and, in fact, works alongside Amazon, too. While Cart.com clients can use the suite of software services to create their own shop, ship out of Cart.com's distribution centers, etc., they can also list their products on Amazon too.

"I like to view Amazon as co-op-etition. We can coexist with Amazon," Tonar says. "We're not antithetical to Amazon. We're not mutually exclusive. We can work with folks who are selling on Amazon to build their direct-to-consumer business, and we are doing that today."

And business are indeed looking for that help, Tonar says on the show. He describes the marketplace as a bit of a monopoly between Amazon, Walmart, and some other players that are essentially squeezing out small or even mid-market companies that can't compete with these larger companies. Walmart and Amazon have the scale necessary to control the end-to-end marketplace, and very few companies have that, Tonar explains.

"Now Cart.com has done the hard work and spent the money to go out and aggregate all of these capabilities. The difference is, we aren't hoarding them. We're offering them as services," he says.

Heading into the holidays, where potential new clients will be focusing on delivering on orders and sales, Cart.com is expecting a busy 2022 in terms of growth. In a lot of ways, the COVID-19 pandemic played a major role in the development of e-commerce and, by extension, Cart.com.

"The pandemic has played a role in overall accelerating the growth of ecommerce as a category and an industry. That growth was going to happen anyways, but it made it more ubiquitous faster," Tonar says. "It's just commerce now. This is just how people purchase and consume things."

Tonar discusses what else you can expect to see from Cart.com in terms of growth, more fundraising, and more. He also shares how he's observed the Houston innovation ecosystem grow over his years in the business. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.