With Australia making strides in renewable energy, what’s the future look like for Houston?

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The renewable energy market is booming in Australia. According to the Australian Renewable Energy Index, by the end of 2017 enough wind and solar energy projects will be completed to power 90% of Australian homes. In 2007 only 7% of Australia’s national electricity output was renewable, last month it reached 18.8% and is expected to exceed the federal government’s target of hitting 20% by 2020 by next year. Additionally, these large-scale renewable energy projects provided almost 9,000 full-time jobs in June of this year.

In the United States, California leads in renewable energy production with a 1,700% increase in solar energy generation between 2010 and 2015 thanks to aggressive legislation. This begs the question; where does Houston, historically known as the energy capital of the world, stand in the renewable energy revolution?

As clean energy becomes ever cheaper to produce and demand grows, Houston has taken a back seat in renewables to technology hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston, Chicago, and even Austin. Nationally, Houston is fifth on the list of wind patents filed, 37th in solar patents, 36th for energy efficiency patents, and 16th in energy storage patents.

Brett Perlman, a former Public Utility Commissioner, says “We have so many skills and so much know-how around energy, and it’s important for us strategically and globally to be a part of these transitions.” But Houston’s long relationship with the oil and gas industry has made it resistant to change. Perlman warns “To continue to be relevant as the industry evolves, we have to be at the forefront of developing these new technology solutions.”

Part of the problem is many of the renewable energy arms of established companies and new startups are going other cities where it’s easier to find investors. “Getting VCs to come to Houston to invest in a type of company where there haven’t been successes before is very, very difficult” Blair Garrou, managing partner of the Mercury Fund says. Despite its formative presence in Houston, Chevron has invested millions of dollars in renewable energy companies in other cities such as Boston and Silicon Valley.

But the biggest hurdle for Houston is state and municipal government. Both Australia and California are reaping the rewards of ambitious legislation that attracted corporate partners and investors. None the less Houston has some advantages that may work in its favor. Foremost, land is cheap which attracts labs and startups that need large open areas to test large scale grids and turbines.

For now, Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world remains but as clean/renewable energy sources become increasingly viable it’s future is uncertain.

Article written by HEI contributor Kevin Abbott.

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