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Day 2 of Future of Global Energy: Houston Well-Positioned to Serve as Net-Zero Hub

Published Jun 30, 2021 by Maggie Martin

energy conference

A globally renowned expert on carbon capture said this week that Houston is ideally positioned to become a world-class, net-zero industrial hub thanks to the region's infrastructure, natural resources and talent. 

Dr. Julio Friedmann, senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, shared findings and recommendations from a new white paper he authored on what a Houston net-zero industrial hub would look like and how to leverage potential federal investments to make it happen. 

Houston as a Net-Zero Hub: Making the Case

A net-zero industrial hub refers to infrastructure dedicated to reducing and ultimately eliminating greenhouse gas emissions through technology. In his white paper presented during the second day of the Future of Global Energy conference, Dr. Friedman laid out the value of such hubs, which include providing:

  • A pathway to accelerate the energy transition and profound decarbonization
  • A focus to maintain and grow jobs through public-private partnerships and infrastructure development
  • Support for core infrastructure that's modern, efficient and low carbon

"Houston is very well-positioned to lead a world-class hub," said Dr. Friedmann. He pointed to Houston's regional CO2 storage capacity, low-cost energy, well-established infrastructure and a robust, skilled talent pool as supportive points for why the region is ideal for a net-zero industrial hub. 

Dr. Friedmann said the benefits Houston could reap by pursuing a net-zero hub include:

  • Job growth: Deployment of CCS could generate roughly 40,000 jobs in Texas before 2035.
  • Talent attraction: Development of a net-zero hub could attract entrepreneurs, incubators and other innovation growth.
  • Potential for reduced air pollution: Especially in key industries, including transportation. 

But Dr. Friedmann also addressed the challenges Houston could face with such a net-zero hub initiative. He said policy support isn't currently sufficient to finance an effort in Houston - or anywhere else in the U.S. He noted public and private capital will be required. 

“Public money is important to stimulate that private investment," he said. But there also must be a collective will across business, public policy and residents to make it happen. "I can't emphasize this enough: community engagement is required for this to be successful."

Global Energy Experts Weigh In

Following Dr. Friedmann's presentation, panelists from around the world joined a virtual discussion moderated by Bobby Tudor, chairman, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. and chair of the Greater Houston Partnership's Energy Transition Initiative. 

The panelists who joined Tudor and Dr. Friedmann were:

  • Dr. Bryony Livesey, Director, UK Industrial Decarbonization Challenge
  • Guy Powell, Vice President Planning & Business Development, ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions
  • Dr. Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for Fossil Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

Dr. Wilcox emphasized the importance of community engagement as part of this process, as well as the energy industry's willingness to pursue a net-zero hub for Houston. 

The panelists also underscored the urgency of the energy transition, echoing a call Tudor made during his keynote address on the first day of the Future of Global Energy conference on June 29. Dr. Livesey said it's a high priority in the UK, where private sector investment has occurred simultaneously as they work on policy solutions. She also said collaboration is vital as part of the industry's efforts towards a low-carbon future.

"[Industry] must try to learn from others and share what they are learning," said Dr. Livesey. 

The conversation also hit on ExxonMobil's major announcement in the spring of a Carbon Capture and Storage Houston Innovation Hub concept. When asked why the oil giant is pursuing this project now, Powell pointed to three reasons: Strong public sentiment to make changes towards a low-carbon world, increased willingness among policy makers to implement changes and the emergence of a tremendous amount of money sitting on the sidelines waiting for this type of investment. 

Looking at Houston's Energy Transition Through Innovation, Reskilling and Startup Attraction

Following the morning discussion around a net-zero hub, the conference held a series of segments touching on different considerations for the energy transition. Here are the highlights. 

Bold Innovation and Cross-Industry Pilots Perception

Segment participants noted the changing, innovative nature of the energy industry and said it's one industry that requires innovation from every side of science and engineering. They also said Houston has a unique opportunity given the strong fabric of our innovation ecosystem.

Talent Reskilling

Speakers touched on the importance of reskilling as an important part of attracting and retaining talent to the region, as well as the value of apprenticeships as a tool for employers. Houston, they agreed, is a truly international city well-positioned to set an example of what skill development would look like in an energy transition.  

Attracting Leading Energy Companies And Startups/Branding/Changing

Speakers in this segment noted attitudes toward climate change have rapidly evolved in Houston over the past decade. They specifically referenced the City of Houston's Climate Action Plan, which launched in 2020. 

The session concluded with panelists urging collaboration across all sectors and acknowledging Houston can be a lab for scaling ideas and innovation. 

Read Dr. Julio Friedmann's white paper Evaluating Net-Zero Industrial Hubs in the United States: A Case Study for Houston. See highlights from the paper here. See the Partnership's strategic regional blueprint for leading the global energy transition to a low-carbon world, in conjunction with the Center for Houston’s Future and McKinsey & Co. 

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