Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss 2020's effect on the energy transition — and what that meant for startups. Photo courtesy of TPH

In 2020, the economy was hit with a double whammy of sorts — from a devastating pandemic to an unprecedented drop in oil prices — and that has meant that the energy transition is happening at a faster pace than ever.

Deeana Zhang, director of energy technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to discuss what she observed throughout the year as she worked closely with energy tech businesses.

"Because it was such a disruptive year, everyone — from the commercial and business side to the consumer side — has rethought how they are using and thinking about energy," she says on the show. "It was the first time that you saw such a mass disruption of energy demand, and that rolls through the entire ecosystem."

The effect touched all four corners of the industry in some way, and it forced all major energy players to be more intentional with their business strategy — especially when it comes to the role they play within the energy transition.

"The energy transition saw a huge uptick in 2020 — and there's a lot of implications of that from what pilots are getting commercialized and what companies are getting more funding," says Zhang. "All around it was hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial I think to the energy transition."

Environmental, social and corporate governance, which has been growing in importance to investors and company leadership for several years now, also got a spur from 2020. ESG has been propelled by activism and consumer choice, Zhang says, but now investors are now forced to be more cognizant than ever.

"What's the investor responsibility to society as a whole? It's going beyond economics — what's your social and environmental responsibility? I think a lot of that expansion of responsibility is what's driving ESG," she says. "That's going to trickle down corporations and companies as they think about what is their expanded responsibility."

Zhang, who works closely with energy startups, also observed a profound effect when it came to capital and new business.

"A lot of companies say numbers go down in 2020, but the exceptions to that were companies that had a strong energy transition angle. Those companies were able to reposition themselves to ... counteract what was going on in the market in general," Zhang says. "From a capital raising standpoint, it was also really challenging. A lot of funds put a hold on investing in new companies and even some to their existing portfolio."

Investment came back toward the second half of the year, but there was a new level of caution, she says, and this is something startups saw happening across the country.

Zhang discusses more about what she saw happen last year for energy technology — as well as what that means for 2021 — on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Comcast donates tech, funds to support diversity-focused nonprofit

gift of tech

A Houston organization focused on helping low-income communities by providing access to education, training, and employment has received a new donation.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program announced the a donation of a $30,000 financial grant and 1,000 laptops to SERJobs. The gift is part of a new partnership with SERJobs that's aimed at educating and equipping adults with technical skills, including training on Microsoft Office and professional development.

“SERJobs is excited to celebrate 10 years of Comcast's Internet Essentials program,” says Sheroo Mukhtiar, CEO, SERJobs, in a news release. “The Workforce Development Rally highlights the importance of digital literacy in our increasingly virtual world—especially as technology and the needs of our economy evolve. We are grateful to Comcast for their ongoing partnership and support of SERJobs’ and our members.”

For 10 years Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected more than 10 million people to the Internet at home — most for the first time. This particular donation is a part of Project UP, Comcast’s comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity.

“Ten years is a remarkable milestone, signifying an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration with our incredible community partners across Houston,” says Toni Beck, vice president of external affairs at Comcast Houston, in the release.

“Together, we have connected hundreds of thousands of people to the power of the Internet at home, and to the endless opportunity, education, growth, and discovery it provides," she continues. "Our work is not done, and we are excited to partner with SERJobs to ensure the next generation of leaders in Houston are equipped with the technical training they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.”

It's not the first time the tech company has supported Houston's low-income families. This summer, Comcast's Internet Essentials program and Region 4 Education Service Center partnered with the Texas Education Agency's Connect Texas Program to make sure Texas students have access to internet services.

Additionally, Comcast set up an internet voucher program with the City of Houston last December, and earlier this year, the company announced 50 Houston-area community centers will have free Wi-Fi connections for three years. Earlier this year, the company also dedicated $1 million to small businesses struggling due to the pandemic that are owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

President Joe Biden appoints Houston green space guru to lofty national post

new gig

Aprominent and nationally acclaimed Houston parks presence has just received a hefty national appointment. President Joe Biden has named Beth White, Houston Parks Board president and CEO, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the organization announced.

The NCPC, established by Congress in 1924, is the federal government’s central planning agency for the National Capital Region. The commission provides overall guidance related to federal land and buildings in the region. Functions include reviewing the design of federal and local projects, overseeing long-range planning for future development, and monitoring capital investment by federal agencies.

Fittingly, White was initially appointed to NCPC as the at-large presidential commissioner in January 2012, per a press release. She was reappointed for another six-year term in 2016. Most recently, White served as the commission’s vice-chair.

“I’m honored to chair the National Capital Planning Commission and work with my fellow commissioners to build and sustain a livable, resilient capital region and advance the Biden Administration’s critical priorities around sustainability, equity, and innovation,” White said in a statement.

Before joining Houston Parks Board in 2016, White served as the director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land, where she spearheaded development of The 606 public park and was instrumental in establishing Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge.

Renowned in the Windy City, she also was managing director of communications and policy for the Chicago Housing Authority; chief of staff for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Chicago Transit Board; and assistant commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. She was the founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Urban Land Institute Houston.

The graduate of Northwestern and Loyola universities most recently received the Houston Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEO award, per her bio.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.