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The key to making Houston the next renewable energy capital is collaboration

Houston can be the renewable energy capital — it has all the ingredients. Photo via Getty Images

Will Houston become the renewable energy capital of America? It's entirely possible.

While the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges to the city's 4,600 energy firms, Houston's energy sector is resilient and can rebuild by prioritizing new jobs in cleantech and renewables.

Earlier this year, the city announced its commitment to using 100 percent renewable energy for all municipal operations by 2025 as part of its Climate Action Plan, a strategic approach for how Houston's residents and businesses can reduce their carbon emissions.

Houston is well-positioned to implement many of the strategies outlined in the plan. Building optimization and materials management can be boosted by the city's powerful construction and engineering workforce. And while it may surprise some, Houston could soon rival California for the number of electric vehicles on the road. Texas has the second highest number of charging stations in the country and the city of Houston leads the state overall.

At Bulb, we're proud to support the city's energy transition efforts by providing people with affordable renewable energy. Houston currently has almost a fifth of Bulb members, the most of any city in Texas.

While switching to a renewable energy provider is one way to make an immediate impact in lowering carbon emissions, the work involved in creating a truly green recovery is complex and must involve many players.

With that in mind, here are three tips we're using to make the green recovery a reality for all Texans. If we can help other like-minded companies to thrive, it's a win-win for everyone:

1. If you build it (with them), they will come

We should ask all Texans about what they want from the future of energy. We regularly ask our members to weigh in on what we should build at Bulb through informal monthly chats, focus groups and usability sessions. We ask what kinds of tools would make it easy for our members to manage their energy use and what kind of investments in technology they would like Bulb to make?

When people engage with us, we ask for more. Texans are savvy about their energy and want to be a part of the process.

2. Provide clear, actionable steps

The climate crisis is often split along political lines, but the reality is that most Texans believe we should prioritize clean energy. In fact, a recent poll found that 60 percent of registered Texas voters support transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Renewable energy has gotten cheaper and cheaper, so if someone can save money while also protecting the state they love, they will. Start with this assumption and give people clear, actionable steps. You can switch to renewable energy in two minutes. You can refer your friends and family to increase your impact. You can talk about your impact in a simple way.

We discovered early on that when people can visualize the impact they're having by using your service, they're motivated to do more. In case you're curious, the average Bulb member reduces their annual carbon impact by 8.42 tons of carbon dioxide. That's the weight of nine burly longhorns.

3. Keep it hopeful

Climate change is inevitable but we can still lessen its impacts. And we cannot do it without hope. When people become overwhelmed with climate anxiety, they cease to act.

We try to inspire and encourage our members by giving them bite-sized ways they can make an impact and celebrating the small wins. The actions needed to dramatically reduce our emissions must ultimately happen at a structural level, but we need to have hope to play the long game.


If folks believe in what we're doing and ultimately go with another renewable energy provider, that's okay. The green recovery will be more successful when companies compete. And we truly believe there's room for everyone.

Think about how these ideas could play out in your business. Are there opportunities to engage with your customers more closely? Do you make it easy for them to sign up? Do you give them reasons to tell their community about you? Finally, do they understand how they're making a difference?

These are some of the actions we've taken since launching in Texas, and we hope they're helpful to you as well. Together, we're confident that Houston will continue to lead in energy, in new and unexpected ways.

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Vinnie Campo is the U.S. country manager for Bulb, a company that focuses on affordable renewable energy from Texas wind and solar.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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