Top Ten Highlights of Cleantech in Houston, Texas

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Houston is one of the major cities in Texas. As part of a state-wide effort to become more cleantech friendly, including the use of renewable energy and energy efficient products, Houston has been doing what it can to work toward sustainability. This includes making changes in buildings, throughout transportation, the city’s infrastructure, increasing renewable and secure energy supplies, and increasing environmental stewardship. Between the years of 2004 and 2007 for example, Houston reduced its total kilowatt per hour usage by 5.8 percent even has businesses and neighborhoods expand. Here are some of the highlights of what Houston has been doing.

1 ) Solar Initiatives. One of the main objectives in Houston has been to accelerate the overall deployment of solar power throughout the entire region. Houston is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities. As such, Houston has been striving to accelerate the overall adoption of various solar energy technologies to ensure a more secure and much cleaner energy future. The Houston Advanced Research Center is in charge of the solar initiatives in the city. For example, there was a 100 kilowatt solar system implemented in the George R. Brown Convention Center that was funded by BP, Houston Endowment, and CenterPoint.

2 ) LED Traffic Lights. Like a number of other major cities throughout the United States, Houston has been looking to replace current traffic signals at over two-thousand intersections with energy efficient LED lights. By the year 2007, there were approximately 400 intersection lights changed, mostly throughout Houston’s downtown district. The rest were completed by 2009. The new lights would increase electricity reduction by 90 percent and the LED bulbs last seven years as opposed to one year. It has saved the city $3.6 million in annual electricity costs.

3 ) Green Building Programs. Houston has been instrumental in the acceleration of the market transformation of green buildings through private sector partnerships and leadership. In June 2004, for example, the mayor passed the Mayor’s Resolution whereby all new buildings in the city and all major renovations to existing buildings needed to be LEED certified. In another example, the group Houston Hope helps to ensure that new and existing homes meet Energy Star standards, which will lower the utility bills for many families.

4 ) Residential Energy Efficiency Program. Houston has implemented a “neighborhood by neighborhood” program for energy efficiency that targets low income homeowners and helps them to reduce their net energy consumption. In more than ten neighborhoods around the city, more than five-thousand homes have been properly weatherized, allowing for up to a 20 percent energy reduction during the summer months. There is an Agencies in Action program that allows for more comprehensive retrofits for homes, including new, energy efficient appliance replacements while recycling old appliances.

5 ) Fuel Efficient and Clean Vehicle Initiatives. Houston has been looking to lead the way in the migration toward hybrid vehicles to drastically increase the amount of cleaner emissions as well as fuel efficiency throughout the roads. The city had a goal to ensure than 50 percent of its non-emergency administrative fleet, which is around 2,800 vehicles, is energy efficient. Currently, there are over 500 hybrids in the fleet, including Toyota Priuses and Ford Escapes. By the year 2011, the Houston Metro is looking to make a purchase of one-hundred hybrid buses to increase the total to just fewer than 450 in the fleet. By the end of 2008, this number was up to 142.

6 ) Million Trees Initiative. One of the main sustainability projects Houston had was its Trees for Houston project to increase the number of trees that are planted as well as sustained throughout the city through a strong private – public partnership. Between October of 2008 and January 2009, the city planted 100,000 trees and put aside $750 thousand in a budget to maintain them. By 2010, there is over 930,000 trees planted throughout the city through a partnership that includes Greater Houston Partnership, Apache, and Trees for Houston.

7 ) Diverting Waste from Landfills in the Area. The city of Houston implemented a large recycling program aimed at diverting certain types of waste from landfills and sending them to recycling centers. Houston has earmarked the potential to divert approximately 150 thousand tons of waste annually, which is around 20 percent of total waste from landfills in the area. The city has set up a number of composting and mulching facilities throughout all the quadrants of the city to take in and process the waste.

8 ) BP Alternative Energy North American Headquarters Moved to Houston. In October of 2008, BP America made a statement that Houston, Texas was to become the headquarters of their BP North America Alternative Energy center. “Houston is a global centre for the energy industry and it is now emerging as a global centre for new and alternative energy technologies,” said Robert Lukefahr, President of BP Alternative Energy North America. “Locating our group in Houston will position this team in the heart of the power industry and supports BP’s long-term commitment to the Houston area.”

9 ) Houston Recognized as a Leading Purchaser of Green Power in the United States. In January of 2008, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made the announcement that Houston appeared at the top of its list of the 25 largest purchasers of green power. Houston received this award by creating a number of energy saving initiatives that also resulted in a number of cost savings. At the time the award was given, Houston was purchasing enough alternative power to meet a total of 20 percent of its electricity needs across operations. Former Houston mayor Bill White (2004-2010) said, “Purchasing green power helps our City become more sustainable and cost-effective, while also sending a message that supporting clean sources of electricity is both a sound business decision and an important choice in reducing harmful emissions.”

10 ) Houston Renewable Energy Group. In 1999, the Houston Renewable Energy Group (HREG) was established with the objective of educating the area about renewable energy. The purpose of the HREG is to “Further the development of renewable energy and related arts, sciences, and technologies with concern for the ecological, social, and economic fabric of our community and states. This shall be accomplished through the exchange of ideas and information by means of meetings, publications, and public displays. HREG shall serve to inform public, institutional, and governmental bodies and seek to raise the level of public and government awareness of its purpose.”

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at shawn@watershedcapital.com

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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