The Future of Clean Energy
In this episode of The Future of, Jane Stricker, Executive Director of Houston Energy Transition Initiative and SVP of Energy Transition for Greater Houston Partnership, joins Jeff to discuss the transition towards clean energy to meet the zero net emission goal of 2050. Jane shares her insight on the challenges and the new opportunities driving this journey.
Jane Stricker: Energy efficiency can be one of the greatest ways to reduce emissions just by not using as much energy. It feels kind of silly to say, but it’s like turning out the light when you leave the room. It’s that sort of mindset of thinking about, “Is there a more efficient way to do something? Is there a way to do that that doesn’t create this much waste?” Those sorts of things, we can all do.
Jeff Dance: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together, we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host, Jeff Dance.
Jeff: In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Jane Stricker to explore the future of clean energy. Climate change is in all of our minds right now as we think about the future and our kids’ future, so we’re really excited to talk to someone that has the depth of experience that Jane does who’s been on the ground and is really focusing on the transition to clean energy that has less carbon emissions. Jane, thanks for joining us today.
Jane: Thanks, Jeff. Great to be here.
Jeff: If we can kick off and you can share with the listeners a little bit more about your experience and also how you became passionate about this transition to less carbon emissions and clean energy, we’d love to hear more about your background.
Jane: Yes, happy to share that. My current role is as Senior Vice President of Energy Transition and the Executive Director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative at the Greater Houston Partnership. The Greater Houston Partnership, just so everybody understands, is that sort of a cross between an economic development organization and a chamber of commerce. We have about 900 business members from the Houston area that we represent and support as they build their business in Houston, so our job is really about supporting economic growth for the region.
I joined in January of this year to lead the Energy Transition Initiative after about a 20-year career at BP. In that 20 years, I held a wide range of roles, but it was probably the last two that really set me up well for this and really drove my passion around energy transition. In 2019, I coordinated a study on behalf of the National Petroleum Council, carbon capture, use, and storage, and its deployment at scale at the request of the Department of Energy.
I worked with about 300 people across about 150 different organizations, private industry NGOs, government agencies, and others to really understand the potential for the US to be a leader in carbon capture technology. Then after that role, when BP launched their reinvent strategy around achieving near net-zero commitment for themselves and the world, I took a role supporting the City of Houston in their implementation of their climate action plan.
My role was as the liaison with the city, helping them think through their decarbonization strategies and their net-zero commitments, and so it positioned me well to move over to this role at the partnership where we’ve got industry members who are committed to achieving net-zero. Our mission is really around positioning Houston to lead the world to an energy-abundant and low-carbon future, really leveraging our industry leadership in energy.
Jeff: How is Houston positioned to transform into the energy transition capital of the world?
Jane: Houston has such a long history of being the energy capital of the world and the oil and gas capital of the world, I guess, a lot of people would say, from the discovery of oil in Spindletop to the build-out of some of the biggest energy infrastructure in the world. Houston is home to almost every major oil and gas player in the world. They’re home to so many of the petrochemicals industry players. Houston produces 44% of the nation’s hydrogen. We produce over 30% of the nation’s refined oil and gas products.
All of that happened here in this region. We also have one of the largest ports in the nation, the number one port by cargo tonnage last year. From a cost-of-living standpoint, from a cost-of-operations standpoint, economically, Houston is a great place to do business. I also think that the relationship that industry has with the government with a lot of local communities, this is a city and a region that understands the importance of this industry.
Everybody here understands how important energy is to life and to the economic growth of this region. Then add in the incredible universities that we have here, Rice University, University of Houston, Texas A&M, and UT, among others, Texas Southern University, all of these great universities who really understand and have been the feeding ground for great energy talent.
More and more, we’re seeing new energy companies come into this region that go beyond oil and gas. There are over 40 wind companies based here in Houston and over 100 solar companies that have a footprint here in Houston. More and more, we’re seeing that Houston is becoming an energy city and not just an oil and gas city. It’s the integration of all of these things that I think make Houston perfectly positioned, probably more so than any other region in the world.
We also have a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions from industry along our ship channel and along the Gulf Coast. Our ability to not only develop technologies but implement them here in Texas to address large-scale CO2 emissions, I think, makes Houston just really well-positioned to lead the world towards this energy-abundant but low-carbon future.
Jeff: Thanks for that context. That’s really interesting. I think one of the interesting things you had mentioned was existing infrastructure. Even if new companies come in with new technology, which there are many in motion in addition to the ones we know about, they have to tie into existing infrastructure to the needs of the everyday person, right?
Jane: Yes, absolutely. Building a new pipeline infrastructure is expensive and it’s difficult. Permitting new pipelines is a significant challenge everywhere in the country and getting new transmission lines built. The more we electrify things, the more we shift to EVs for transportation, the more we shift to electrification of operations to eliminate the use of things like diesel, the more strain that we’re putting on our energy system. We need to find ways to integrate energy solutions into that existing infrastructure. Building new infrastructure is expensive and time-consuming. Being able to integrate new solutions into our existing infrastructure will be critical to our success in the long term.
Jeff: I noticed your LinkedIn profile said, “Leading the energy transition in the energy capital of the world.” I think that’s a bold statement. After talking to you, I believe you and it’s amazing, the deep history there and the opportunity to coalesce with all of these organizations towards the change that the world wants to see. How did you really get passionate about this topic? You mentioned the experiences at BP, but what really tips the scales and be like, “Oh, I really want to focus on this?”
Jane: I think seeing the commitment and the passion of our existing energy industry towards finding solutions for a low-carbon future, really helping them come together, leverage the leadership, the capability that already exists. Look, at the end of the day, we can’t afford to just throw away everything that we’ve already created over the last 100 years to provide the world with energy.
We have to find ways to leverage the assets, the infrastructure, the capability, the talent, all of those things that we already have and figure out how to do it cleaner more efficiently with less emissions. For more people, the world’s going to need more energy, not less, as we move forward. Finding ways to really bring together broad groups of stakeholders, whether it be industry players, government agencies, NGOs, and others, we’re all trying to get to the same place.
We just need to figure out how to bring everybody together to do that. That’s why I’m really passionate about the role that I have in leading this initiative in the energy capital of the world. There’s no place better in my mind for the energy transition to grow from. This is where energy scales. This is where energy innovates. This is where, historically, we’ve seen all the new technologies and solutions come from. I think there’s still a huge role for industry to play in decarbonizing its operations and finding paths forward to a low-carbon future.
Jeff: To start with today, how do we think about clean energy sources and options? What are the primary ones?
Jane: I think everybody’s familiar with renewable energy as being clean energy. You have things like solar and wind power, hydropower, geothermal in the traditional sense. All of those are what people think of when they think of clean energy, but there are also other pathways to clean energy that we can start to think about. Technologies like carbon capture can help reduce the emissions coming out of industrial facilities.
It’s really hard to abate sectors like cement, steel production, refining, petrochemicals, all of those types of facilities that, today, require the burning of fossil fuels in order to be able to produce the product that they produce. There are technologies that have been deployed in the US for over 50 years already like carbon capture that can actually help us achieve our near-term emissions goals as we’re thinking about, “What are those new technologies that are going to come to the forefront as we move forward and what are the some of the other ways that we can start to decarbonize?”
Jeff: What are some of the key things that go into how do you choose which sources to go after which have more promise? How are those decisions made?
Jane: I think part of it is figuring out what works in your geography. Leveraging the assets and the infrastructure that you already have is key to being able to make these transitions efficiently and affordably. Texas is the largest producer of wind and solar energy today. Much of that is because we have the landmass to be able to produce, to be able to install the equipment associated with large-scale solar and wind farms.
Obviously, in small states in certain geographies where you don’t have as much wind or as much natural sunlight, that’s not going to be your best solution. You may need to rely on technologies like geothermal or natural gas with carbon capture to be that underlying source of consistent energy. At the end of the day, you have to figure out in any given geography, what are the assets, what are the capabilities, and what makes the most sense given that region?
I do think that, over time, we’ll see energy solutions be developed more specifically around what can be implemented. If you’re in Las Vegas, the dam, hydropower is a big piece of the electricity infrastructure there because that’s what they have near them. I think leveraging the assets and the capabilities that you have as close to you as possible will become a key defining element of our energy transition strategy.
Jeff: Got it. You’ve been in the space for a long time and you have this new focus on moving to clean energy and helping align all these different organizations to that cause. That’s one of the things I noticed in your background. You have a lot of experiences aligning different organizations to a cause, which is great to have you in this leadership role. What are the companies today trying to accomplish? We’re currently in this current state. What are the things they’re trying to accomplish today?
Jane: Yes, absolutely. I think if you look at some of the big integrated energy players that are based here in Houston, whether it’s BP or Chevron or Shell or ExxonMobil or others, all of them have now put in place low-carbon business streams. They are building out their business capability and competency around low-carbon business solutions, not only for themselves and to reduce the CO2 emissions associated with their operations, but also to be able to deliver long-term energy solutions that meet those low-carbon goals and net-zero goals.
Almost all of them have a ventures arm that is working with startups across the world. We have a really great startup ecosystem around energy transition here in Houston, but really investing in those early-stage technologies to figure out, “What are the solutions that are going to help us achieve our net-zero future?” Each one of those companies, while still needing to meet the energy needs of today, are also looking at ways that they can reduce the emissions associated with our operations today.
Whether it’s electrifying their field operations, switching from diesel generators to electrification for their operational facilities, doing fuel switching, auto fuel alternatives, drop-in fuels, things that will allow them right away today to reduce the emissions associated with their operations, but then also building out these low-carbon business streams that are helping them think through whether it’s clean hydrogen electrolysis with wind energy to create hydrogen, wind, and solar, all of those new technologies, geothermal and others, they’re really building out those long-term business models today.
Jeff: Got it. That’s great to hear. Tell us more about net zero. I know companies have goals. Tell us more about how they make those goals and then how they measure how they’re doing. Do we think the big energy companies are actually meeting their goals right now? Are they making good progress?
Jane: Yes, I think each company sets its goals based on a different set of standards. Part of the challenge is that there isn’t a consistent defined way to report on emission sources. Scope 1 emissions are emissions that come from the operations of your own business. That’s a place where almost all of the big corporates have made their net-zero commitments that they will reduce the emissions associated with operating their own facilities.
Many of them are already looking at electrification opportunities. They’re looking at fuel switching. They’re looking at other efficiency programs that are allowing them to get closer and closer to that net zero as quickly as possible. Then on Scope 2, that’s the emissions associated with the energy that you’re using to operate. We see all kinds of companies, whether it be energy companies or others, that are thinking about, “How do I integrate more renewables into my energy mix, creating a lot more demand for renewable energy?” so that they can reduce the emissions from Scope 2.
Then Scope 3, it gets a little more complicated because that’s the emissions associated with when the customer uses your product. That’s something that industry has so much less control over, and so it’s difficult for them, A, to measure it and, B, to affect it. I think that scenario where we will see over time more and more effort put into how it get measured, how do you measure it through the supply chain, how does it get tracked, how do we make sure we’re not double counting.
If I’m an energy producer, my Scope 1 emissions might be your Scope 2 emissions, and it gets very complicated, so how do we make sure that we’ve got a great system for measuring emissions, for monitoring those emissions, and then for tracking the actions. I think industry has already taken huge steps to reduce the emissions associated with their own activities. I think the challenge is, how do we start to tell that story a bit better and collect those data points in a way that is consistent and people can get comfortable with those methodologies?
Jeff: What about people as individuals? What are some things we can do individually to take this more seriously ourselves?
Jane: Yes, I think there’s a million things we can do. I think back to when I was a kid, when I was younger, we didn’t go in and out in the car nearly as many times a day. There seems to be this now instantaneous mindset of––there’s a lack of awareness of the impact each of us has on the environment around us. If you look at the amount of garbage that we throw away in a week, if you look at the amount of times that we’re getting in the car and driving somewhere instead of making multiple stops along one trip, we live in this convenient mindset of, “I need single-serve packaging. I want my air conditioner to be 65 degrees, I want my lights to come on all the time before I get home.”
Being mindful of the choices each of us make every day and the way that we operate in our world and the impact that we have on energy efficiency can be one of the greatest ways to reduce emissions just by not using as much energy. It feels silly to say, but it’s like turning out the light when you leave the room. It’s that mindset of thinking about, “Is there a more efficient way to do something? Is there a way to do that that doesn’t create as much waste?”
Those sorts of things, we can all do. Then I think having conversations with people about energy and about the energy system. Talk to people who know the energy system and rather than starting from a mindset of thinking that you know where it’s headed or what the problem is, it is complex. It’s always more complex than we think it is. Sometimes we think the solution can be simple, but it isn’t simple. Taking the time to really understand.
We also live in a world of 10-second memes. The energy system is way more complex than that. Taking the time to really understand the implications of decision-making, of going this path or what the drawbacks are to this, and really being aware of what all the different pathways can create but also what the gaps are and being honest about what is the goal that we’re trying to achieve. If the goal is to shut down an industry, that’s a different goal than the goal to reduce emissions. If the goal is really to reduce emissions, let’s be open-minded about all the ways that we can go about doing that.
Jeff: We hear every day of the major energy problems like just visiting the gas pump or watching the news. We can’t escape everything that’s going on with Ukraine and Russia right now, but what are some of the problems you see related to the speed at which we’re moving to clean energy?
Jane: I think when people talk about the dual challenge and we named the 2019 NPC study “Dual Challenge” and it really is an appropriate descriptor for what’s happening right now, we are really living in a dual challenge of needing to continue to provide energy to the world and more energy every day to the world and in places of the world that are even in more dire circumstances than us.
If you think about Europe and the consequence of the Russia invasion into Ukraine, that has had significant consequences on energy access for European markets. In addition to needing to find ways to provide more energy to the world today and you can only build things so quickly, we also have to find a way to reduce emissions associated with the energy that’s being produced. We really are in this dilemma of we can only get things done so quickly.
When you think about the time it takes to develop a project, permit a project, get the funding for a project, whether it’s a renewable project, whether it’s a carbon capture project, whether it’s a new refinery, anytime you’re trying to build infrastructure to provide more energy, the length of time that it takes is extensive, and rightly so because we have to make sure that it’s all done appropriately and correctly and safely, impacting as few people as possible.
At the same time, the demand for energy isn’t decreasing. As we head into winter, it’s probably getting even more dramatic. Industry is in this position of wanting to move ahead, also needing to find ways to produce energy in a time when it’s not particularly favorable to try to build a new refinery or drill a new well. Finding the balance between all of those competing priorities is really the biggest challenge that we’re facing right now.
Jeff: What are some options that you think can help bridge us into the future? Let’s not talk completely about the future yet, but what are some options you’re excited about from a clean energy perspective that could help bridge us there?
Jane: I think there’s a lot of really exciting things happening in the near term. I think we’re seeing more and more opportunities to electrify operational activities that would have relied on diesel energy generation, diesel or other types of fuels. The more we can electrify those things and move the emission source back to the power plant, then I think you’re just trying to address that one emission source rather than scattered sources, I think those types of technologies are really key. Energy storage, I think, is starting to really grow.
We’re seeing it more and more in the individual homes with having solar connected to energy storage systems that can provide underlying power overnight or when the wind’s not blowing, when the sun’s not shining. I think we’re seeing really fast movement around energy storage systems that are starting to get up to longer duration and can bridge the gap for intermittency with renewables.
I also think of technologies that allow us to recycle industrial heat. There’s a company here in Houston called Kanin Energy, who is focused on recycling waste heat from operational activities and using that heat to help power. Again, closing that loop on energy systems so that we can continue to reuse that energy more efficiently as we go through this transition and I think just efficiency in general. I think more and more real estate companies and other big operational companies that have large-scale building footprint are looking at how they start to implement more energy efficiency programs to reduce usage.
Because I do think that’s a big piece of the puzzle: “How do we stop using as much energy as we’ve been used to using?” There are countries in the world where they have less energy in a given day than what it takes to power a light bulb in our home. We always expect the air conditioner to run at 65 degrees and we want our Christmas lights turned on by November 1st every year. All of those things that have a consequence on our energy system, thinking about how to be a bit more efficient in our energy usage, I think, is a key to the challenge.
Jeff: Reduce, reuse, recycle is something we talk about with recycling and garbage. It really relates to energy as well.
Jeff: That makes sense. What about hydrogen and geothermal? You had mentioned those before. Tell us more about the opportunities there. We hear a lot about wind and solar. Tell us more about those.
Jane: Hydrogen has gained a ton of interest, particularly over the last few years. Houston is already a producer of about 45% of the nation’s hydrogen. They do it through a process called steam-methane reforming of natural gas that has CO2 emissions associated with it when you produce the hydrogen. There are technologies being developed today and in development today.
Things like implementing carbon capture technology on a hydrogen production plant can allow you to capture the emissions associated with the production of that hydrogen making it clean hydrogen. In addition, there’s a lot of interest around creating a pathway from renewable energy production that will allow the production of hydrogen. Then we have companies here in Houston, startup companies that are looking at things like microbes that can be deployed into depleted oil and gas reserves that can eat the oil molecules to create hydrogen.
There’s really interesting technologies that are being developed across the spectrum of hydrogen. I think more clean hydrogen gives us the option of decarbonizing other industrial processes like refining and petrochemicals processing that rely heavily on hydrogen. We need plastics. We will continue to need plastics for the long term, particularly when you start to think about industries like the medical industry, which relies heavily on sterile plastic goods to be able to keep people healthy.
The more we can find ways of producing those products in a low-carbon way by having decarbonized hydrogen as the fuel source, and then you can start to do fuel switching. Even in a power plant environment, you can start to drop in and replace some of the natural gas that’s being used with clean hydrogen and be able to start to make that transition to lower-carbon, lower-emitting fuel sources to provide power.
Jeff: That makes sense. That sounds exciting. What about electric cars? We hear a lot about this. Our president has made a big push around support for this. We also hear about the cost that goes into producing these batteries and the carbon that’s emitted just to produce the batteries. We obviously need to make progress. Some progress means that it’s not always as efficient as we want it to be, but do you see electric cars moving the needle for the climate change effect that we’re looking for?
Jane: Yes, absolutely. If you look at a city like Houston, because it’s such a big city, it’s so spread out. Fully half of the city of Houston’s CO2 emissions come from transportation, which is a fair bit higher than most other cities, particularly cities where you’ve got more public transportation or smaller footprint. Decarbonizing transportation is a critical aspect to Houston meeting its climate goals and our region meeting our long-term climate goals.
Figuring out how to build out the infrastructure to support EVs, I think, is absolutely critical and, at the same time, figuring out technology that will allow us to develop those batteries without relying so heavily on base metals that are so hard to get to, right? Trying to find alternatives, I think there’s a quote or a stat somewhere that says, “The vast majority of the technology we need for the energy transition to get to net zero hasn’t even been invented yet.”
As we think about the batteries today, we need to recognize that that’s not the battery of tomorrow. The battery of tomorrow needs to be more environmentally friendly, needs to have less lithium, less cobalt, less rare-earth metals, and rely on other technologies. We need students in universities and people in labs and startups that are figuring out, “How do we start to develop the technologies that will allow us to transition over time?”
The energy transition is just that. It’s a transition.
We need to start today with the things we know we can do and build out that infrastructure, but preparing ourselves for what’s the technology that’s coming down the pike. Where do we go from here? How do we continue to improve time after time after time? Over the history of our energy system, we’ve continued to find more efficient, more cost-effective ways of providing the energy that the world needs. We continue to see that evolve. Energy has always been an evolution and the transition will just continue to be part of that evolution.
Jeff: It takes everyone essentially to get to net zero. If governments figure it out and businesses figure it out, but then we’re all still driving cars and we’re producing half the emissions, then we don’t solve the problem, right? It takes everyone involved.
Jane: Exactly. It really does take everyone in having all of those voices. I think back to the first computer I ever got. It was this massive, giant piece of equipment. That’s still probably an eighth of the level of power capability of my phone today, right? You think about that evolution of technology over time. Energy is the same way, but we have to be willing to start somewhere.
I think an all-or-nothing attitude doesn’t get us there. We have to have all the voices at the table, so we need to bring everyone together. That’s another area where I think Houston really demonstrates great leadership. The government, the city of Houston, the mayor of Houston, brings all of those voices to the table. Industry, community, all the different stakeholders.
Even if he gets pushback, we’ll say, “Look, we can’t do this without industry being part of the solution.” If I think about COP 27 this week, industry is not invited to COP. It never has been. I just don’t see how you get to a long-term energy transition solution if the producers of the energy aren’t allowed to be part of the solution, particularly when so many of them have made commitments. I think it is difficult.
They are in a difficult place of having to balance near-term energy needs of the world and responding to that demand and, at the same time, making those investments for the long term transition. If we’re not all willing to sit down at the table and hear each other and figure out how to work together to make it happen, I think we’re going to continue in this cycle of talking about a crisis that never gets dealt with.
Jeff: Right. As we think about the future and transition to the future, what are some of the big things we need to do now to move the needle? You mentioned some of the issues with coal as one example. Can you talk to that a little bit?
Jane: Yes, absolutely. I think some of the biggest things we could do today would be replacing coal with natural gas around the world. We’ve done it in a lot of places in the US and there’s still some coal plants that could be converted over to natural gas. That’s one of the biggest things that you could do today. US natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fuels available today, particularly if you think about fossil. If we could just switch all of the coal plants in China to natural gas, we could make a huge impact on emissions globally.
Thinking about it in terms of incremental steps, is that the end state? Probably not. There’s probably technology that will come and allow us to integrate more renewables with backup power generation or geothermal or hydrogen or other technologies or fuel sources, energy sources. That’s a start today that we could do that could make a huge impact globally for us in terms of reducing CO2 emissions.
Jeff: One of the stories that is pretty exciting given all the world coming together was when we recognized the ozone issue. This is when I was a kid. I heard about it in schools like the ozone. We have a major ozone issue. They had the worldwide coalition. Now, as I understand it, the ozone is restoring. We didn’t add a Celsius of increased temperature because we stopped that issue from happening, right?
We were able to reverse course as a world together. What are some of the things you think we need to do to reverse course with energy and the carbon offsets? What are some of the big macro things that you see happening in the next 20 to 40 years for us to get back to a state where like, “Okay, we’re maybe a little bit more comfortable,” like we are now with what we did with the ozone depletion.
Jane: Yes, I think if we can implement solutions that exist today, things like carbon capture equipment on existing power facilities, on existing industrial facilities, that could have, within five years, a significant impact on reducing our CO2 emissions from stationary sources. While we’re doing that, we’re also developing technologies that then replace those facilities in the long term or implement new technologies.
At the same time, we can then start to focus on addressing issues like CO2 emissions from transportation. How do we really start to move the needle on electrification of vehicles and building out that infrastructure? There are technologies that exist today that will allow us to decarbonize the things that we are already doing in a meaningful way, but getting people to see that those technologies are safe, reliable, and actually do what we want them to do.
No, we’re not eliminating the use of fossil fuels completely. If the goal is emissions reduction, we should be looking at what are the technologies that allow us to reduce the emissions while we’re looking for alternative long-term fuel sources. If we want to move the needle today, there are loads of technologies, but we need to be able to get permits to build those things. We need to be able to build infrastructure to support the movement of CO2 from its point source to where it can be stored.
All of those things need to be built out. The problem we have right now is it can take years to get a permit to do anything. Whether it’s building a new transmission line, putting in a CO2 or a hydrogen pipeline, any of those things has a significant length of time. We’re five years out from any technology being on the ground if you can’t get a permit. Getting clarity on that permanent process is really, really critical to us being able to really start to see scale implementation of technologies.
Jeff: This is where the government and industry really need to work together, right? The governments want more change. Let’s say you did have some really innovative technology. It’s almost like, “Well, how do we accelerate the permitting process so that we can do this in two and a half years instead of five years?” Even that could move the needle on some particular technology.
Jane: Absolutely, and accelerating at every point. Accelerating from early stage, getting more technology out of the lab and into startup and into piloting and testing and demonstration and scale deployment, being able to accelerate that with programs like what the DOE has put out there with the National Science Foundation, there’s a lot of work underway to help accelerate those things. The more we can invest in accelerating existing solutions and driving new solutions, I think that will really help us to make things happen in the next coming years.
Jeff: As we move forward, 20 years, 40 years might not be that long of a time frame if you think about big wind, solar, or hydro projects. Sometimes it takes 10 years to permit and develop something massive or huge, right? Do you see renewable sources of energy? If we look 30, 40 years, do you see these being the primary sources of our energy consumption? Do you think that we’ll just rely less and less on some of the fossil fuels that obviously have carbon emissions? If you’re doing more carbon capture, maybe that makes them more okay? How do you see the energy balance changing in the future between the sources?
Jane: Man, if I knew that, I would make some serious investments. I think two things. One, I think we will continue to see the development of energy solutions be somewhat geographically specific. Like I said earlier, to the extent that solutions work in particular geographies, I think we will see that play out a bit more. I think the production of energy will move a lot closer to the user of the energy in that same way. Then I also think there’s a lot of technology that’s in development today that can be game-changing.
Jeff: That can be game-changing.
Jane: We don’t know what we don’t know. I can’t even imagine what the energy system will look like 40 years from now because there are so many new technologies that have come just in the last five years that I didn’t know were possible.
Jeff: You have disruptive technologies that can completely change the game.
Jeff: You mentioned the notion of eating microbes. Can you cite a few other startups like, “Oh, that’s really interesting. That could change the game”?
Jane: Yes, there are some really amazing startups, particularly here in the Houston area. There’s a company called Syzygy Plasmonics that is using LED light to do electrolysis so they can create hydrogen through LED lights, so they don’t even need a giant solar farm to produce the electricity to create the hydrogen. They can do the splitting and create the hydrogen in the lab using LED light, which is amazing technology.
That can allow for the decarbonization of petrochemicals development and other heavy industries that rely heavily on hydrogen as their fuel source. Cemvita Factory has developed a microbe that they’ve genetically altered that will eat the carbon dioxide molecules and convert them to sugar. They can produce gold hydrogen in the ground, which is basically by eating the CO2 molecules, by eating the molecules in the ground, they can produce clean hydrogen in place from those depleted oil and gas wells.
Then they’re also using that technology as a mechanism for biomining, and so using microbes as mining capability rather than having physical mining, and so going in and eating the things around those minerals or materials that you’re trying to get out of the ground, and so more efficient without having to use all of the heavy industrial equipment to do the mining. Having microbes that can mine can be a game-changer as well.
Those types of technologies and then Oxy is doing stuff around direct air capture, so grabbing the emissions right out of the air, separating them, pulling the CO2 emissions out, and then they’ve just announced a big project to store that CO2 out in the Permian Basin. All of those technologies, I think, will be a game-changer for industry and for our world in terms of understanding how we get to our net-zero goals by 2050.
Jeff: You’ve been in a position of authority and impact a lot of companies in your history. You mentioned advising the US government for the study they requested. If you could wave a magic wand, what would be some decisions you make for our country right now related to clean energy and try to get them on the right path since so many of us are misinformed? Any thoughts on that?
Jane: I think it’s always difficult to get people to see a different perspective. If I could wave my magic wand, it would be for people to really understand how complex this is and to recognize that it won’t come with simple solutions. We have to be thoughtful. We can’t rush to make choices without understanding what the long-term implications of them are and what the long-term costs may be and how it affects different communities, how it affects different people.
Everything that we do around energy has an impact on our ability to provide it, but also what someone pays for it. We have to really be mindful of that balance as well. We need to continue to make sure energy is affordable for people, and so just getting people to really take the time to understand how complex the energy system really is and how important it is to everything that we do.
Jeff: That’s great. Just one personal question to end. This whole climate crisis has been stressful for a lot of people. Obviously, the people in Ukraine and Europe have been more stressed as it relates to energy. You work in probably a pretty stressful job having to work with lots of different people. What are some of the things you do personally to relieve stress? I heard a little bit about biking, that you were a professional biker or a competitive biker. What are some of the things you do to relieve stress?
Jane: Definitely not professional. Very amateur, but very competitive at the same time. For me, biking is a big part of it. Getting exercise and then cooking. I love to make food. I’m not a big fan of eating out. I love great restaurants, but I don’t eat out a lot. I do love to cook. Taking the time on the weekends to try new recipes, make new dishes, try new fruits and vegetables, always an interesting opportunity and keeps me from thinking too much about things that stress me out.
Jeff: I love it. Great. Fruits and vegetables, hiking, definitely passions of mine as well. Jane, thanks so much for joining us. I really enjoyed your depth of insights, your practicality, but also your optimism for where we’re going and all the things at play that are going into that future that we’re all counting on given the crisis of today and witnessing what others have experienced in Europe, so really appreciate your depth and your leadership. Thank you from all of us here at Fresh.
Jane: Thanks, Jeff. It was great to be here and these really are truly exciting times. They’re challenging times, but we all have the opportunity to do something that will be impactful and meaningful for the long term, so really excited to have the opportunity to share that with you today.
Jeff: Awesome, and it was great to get your call to action for us personally as well, to think about how we can move the needle. It’s in those small things that all add up collectively together. Thanks again.
Jeff: The Future Of podcast is brought to you by Fresh Consulting. To find out more about how we pair design and technology together to shape the future, visit us at freshconsulting.com. Make sure to search for The Future Of in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click Subscribe so you don’t miss any of our future episodes. On behalf of our team here at Fresh, thank you for listening.