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

 
 

UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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