Will Houston become the ‘Energy Capital’ without gas and oil?

Houston aspires for a low-carbon energy future with renewable energy sources.

Houston, known by many as the ‘energy capital of the world,’ has mainly relied on gas and oil for their energy for the past century. Renewable energy sources have been on the rise. With climate change causing irreversible damage to the world’s ecosystems, Houston wishes to change their future and look at it with a greener, cleaner light.

Last month at Houston City Hall, hundreds of high school students from Bellaire High School, advocated for policy changes to help combat global warming. One student, Izzy Richards, who’s with the Sunrise Movement, said Houston does not have to be reliant on oil, gas and casing inspection.

“People in Houston often say that they fear addressing climate change because we have low potential for harvesting renewable energy here in Houston,” she said.

How realistic is this aspiration? The energy transition is a topic that many oil and gas companies are also concerned with, as evidenced by the Greater Houston Partnership’s annual State of Energy event last week. At this event, Michael Wirth, the CEO of Chevron, was a keynote speaker, stating while fossil fuels will still make up the majority of energy for the long haul, climate change is something they’re starting to notice.

“…we also have to respond to these other pressures, and we operate at the invitation of the societies around the world, in the countries where we do business,” he said. “And climate change is a real concern of theirs, and we need to be responsive to that in how we run our core operations and how we invest to bring new technologies to bear.”

Major oil companies are looking into low-carbon energy sources and not just for PR reasons, said Bill Arnold, an energy management professor at Rice University.

Developing wind power, electric vehicle recharging stations,” Arnold said. “But I think what they try to do is to say where do we actually have known skillsets right now and how can we apply them that’s compatible with this new interest.”

Arnold said these companies need to attract young talented people who desire to see the future with new sources of energy. At the University of Houston, the Gutierrez Energy Management Institute now offers an “energy transition” class to help educate college students about the economic changes that will happen when countries begin to switch to renewable energy sources. The professor, Greg Bean, believes Houston will continue to be the nation’s energy capital, no matter the cause for that energy.

Renewables are becoming a big part of the conversation, and for Greater Houston Partnership President Bob Harvey, he believes and states as such at the State of Energy Event.

“We’re already the renewables headquarters of the world,” Harvey said. “And it’s one of those things that doesn’t get as much attention, that we have the major wind players, solar players, storage players here in Houston.”

For the CEO of the solar energy company Sunnova, John Berger, he acknowledged that Houston isn’t quite ready yet to altogether remove oil and gas as its primary source for energy. Still, he does recognize that the transition is gaining momentum.

“When we look back in a few years, we’ll say 2019 was the transition year,” Berger said.

While the future for renewable energy in Houston is still unclear, what remains is that Houston won’t be losing its title of the nation’s energy capital anytime soon.