Guest column

Expert: Texas leaders need to expedite long-term energy solutions

"Texas is an energy leader and no one wants to see that change." Photo via Getty Images

Soaring temperatures have arrived, and while Texans should be enjoying the return to normalcy, instead they're facing another energy crisis.

Many saw February's winter storm and severe power outages as a once-in-a-century problem, but these unusual events are becoming all too commonplace, despite the governor's directive to improve grid reliability. Last month, Texans were again being asked to conserve energy while lawmakers considered a slew of new regulations, some of which would cripple investments in renewable energy.

For three months following the storm, the Texas legislature debated how to prevent another energy crisis. We applaud our elected officials for resisting political pressure to wrongly blame and punish renewable energy, and we want to encourage them to continue with this forward-thinking strategy.

Texas is an energy leader and no one wants to see that change. We urge our representatives in Austin to take a comprehensive view of what went wrong during the winter storm and ensure that any new rules and regulations work in support of, and not against, the energy market as a whole.

Texas needs a long term, comprehensive plan – not just for preventing blackouts, but for a more sustainable state.

Hot weather in Texas is a given, but we're anticipating temperatures will continue to rise. A climatologist at Texas A&M University recently predicted that the state will see the number of 100-degree days double by 2036. Rather than take a step back, we need to move forward and prioritize renewable energy as well as other investments in sustainability to future-proof our state and our planet.

Prioritizing green energy will have a ripple effect on Texas' economy. As the country's leader in wind-generated electricity, Texas has already reaped the benefit of creating thousands of new jobs for the state. In 2019, it was reported that Texas had over 230,000 clean energy jobs. If our state leaders are committed to job creation, we want to see how they're supporting clean energy, as well as continuing to work on maintaining the grid in an effective, efficient way.

The energy market is complex and dynamic, but it’s a key player in our road to a sustainable future. 

Continuing to invest in renewable energy is one simple step our lawmakers can make to ensure our energy market is addressing the climate crisis — and that Texans aren't dependent on generators and gas-fired power plants which let the state down during Winter Storm Uri. This should be a priority. In a recent survey of 1,000 adults by OnePoll in May 2021 commissioned by Bulb, 74 percent of respondents stated Texas should continue to develop and invest in renewable energy and over half of respondents expressed that investing in more green, clean renewable energy is the most important environmental issue that needs to be addressed.

As we come out of the pandemic, we have a chance to do better, together.

Texas has had over $60 billion in renewable energy investment to provide low-cost electricity generation. And with the growing technology sector across the state, there'll be more opportunities for renewables in the future. Continuing to promote policies that pushed Texas to its leadership position will unleash even more investments and innovation, which is good for Texas, good for Texans and good for the planet.

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Vinnie Campo is the general manager for Bulb U.S., a new type of energy company that aims to make energy simpler, cheaper, and greener by providing renewable electricity to its members from Texas wind and solar. He is based in Texas.

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Building Houston

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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