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Bigger in Texas: Can Aberdeen learn from Houston on energy transition?

© Supplied by Granite PR/ ShuttersHouston Aberdeen
Jose Beceiro, senior director of Global Energy 2.0 for the Greater Houston Partnership, visiting Aberdeen's Norwood Hall Hotel as part of the Aberdeen-Houston Gateway event.

If Aberdeen is the “oil and gas capital of Europe”, Houston is surely the global hub – and the pair’s respective energy transition journeys are “almost an exact correlation” of each other.

Jose Beceiro, a cleantech and economic development expert, said, in some ways “Aberdeen is far ahead of Houston in installing new energy transition projects like green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage”.

Visiting north-east Scotland recently in his guise as senior director of Global Energy 2.0 for the Greater Houston Partnership, Beceiro sat down with Energy Voice to discuss the parallels between the two regions, and his delegation’s visit to learn, as he put it, “the best practices that Aberdeen is putting in place” for the energy transition.

“A lot of the energy transition initiatives and projects that are happening right now are being supported by the large energy companies, similar to what we’re seeing here in Aberdeen,” he said.

“The similarities are that you have an established energy industry, talent and skills. You have energy capital and investment available, and that’s really what’s driving the new innovations happening in the energy sector.

“So even though Aberdeen may be on a smaller scale in terms of population, the areas of energy transition are really at the forefront here.”

Its high praise coming from the Lone Star State; certainly the oil and gas capital of the US and its largest renewable energy market.

Houston Aberdeen © Supplied by Port of Houston
ExxonMobil has big plans for carbon capture in the Houston Ship Channel

Beceiro rattled off some impressive numbers: 19 Fortune 500 energy corporate headquarters in Houston, over 4,600 energy companies and a quarter of a million energy workers.

Houston is also home to around 9,000 tech companies and about 240,000 tech workers. Bringing the two industries together has been a cornerstone of energy transition efforts in Texas.

Amazon, Google and Microsoft have all opened offices in Houston over the last two years, and Hewlett Packard (HP), a Sillicon Valley tech firm, recently relocated their global headquarters there.

Bringing their cloud computing expertise to the energy sector is the main driver behind the moves.

“The technologies being pursued in Houston are directly relevant and in demand from the energy industry. Everything from cloud computing, machine learning, AI, robotics. We have a lot of those types of companies right now in Houston developing those technologies for oil and gas, and also electric vehicles and other areas.

“That has been the big disruptive milestone we’ve achieved in Texas, both in Austin and Houston, bringing the tech industry and the energy industry together.”

Beceiro recalled an early meeting he had in Austin, where he worked in the cleantech sector for 25 years, bringing together CEOs of different industries.

“They all come from very different worlds and the ways that each industry has operated over the last 100 years or so. Identifying common challenges and opportunities to work together has been the biggest challenge but something we’ve been able to be successful on.”

On a smaller scale, the pursuit of technology as the solution to many of the industry’s challenges will sound familiar to those affiliated with the work of the Net Zero Technology Centre in Aberdeen.

© Supplied by Granite PR
Jose Beceiro (centre) with delegates for the Aberdeen-Houston Gateway.

Finding solutions to those challenges is, if anything, even more urgent for Texas (the largest polluting state), in the US (one of the world’s largest polluting countries).

Though it is the largest renewable market in the states (a whopping 35 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind power and 10GW of solar), it is also the fastest-growing population and has a huge industrial sector, driving demand for “a diversified energy portfolio”.

Decarbonisation is high on the agenda, Beceiro reports, as well as investment in on-site generation and microgrid infrastructure to serve crucial facilities – recalling storms last year which caused huge power outages across Texas.

Houston’s mayor launched an aggressive climate action plan two years ago, with targets around creating dozens of new energy 2.0 start-up firms, converting municipal fleet vehicles to EVs, goals around recycling and diverting landfill waste into energy sources and improving energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

A big prize, though, is carbon capture, utilisation and storage, an area which Texas is “behind other parts of the world”, Beceiro conceded, citing the Port of Rotterdam, Teesside in the UK, and north-east Scotland’s own ambitions around the Acorn project.

But everything is bigger in Texas, as the adage goes, and that is showing through its vision, with ExxonMobil seeking $100 billion to create a CCUS hub in the Houston Ship Channel.

“We’re actually quite fortunate in Houston that we have the perfect geology underground – just under the Houston Ship Channel – to store large volumes of CO2 and hydrogen permanently.

“It’s been estimated we have upwards of a trillion metric tonnes of available storage capacity in the Houston Ship Channel. To put some numbers into perspective, currently the Houston region emits approximately 20 million metric tonnes of CO2 a year. It’s one of the most carbon-intensive regions in the United States – Texas is by the largest carbon-emitting State.

“ExxonMobil’s plan wants to ramp up to no less than 100 million metric tonnes of CCS by 2040. The estimated cost to build out the level of infrastructure we would need is approximately $100 billion.”

A total of 14 industry partners are coming together to form a CCUS consortium and have so far committed to around $30bn in funding.

houston aberdeen © Shutterstock
Houston, Texas, USA downtown city skyline and highway.

The plan will require more cash from the federal government – which the consortium has plans to get after thanks to specific carve outs for CCUS and hydrogen in President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Bill.

Ultimately, the efforts to get after new energies will not just help the planet but also help transition the current oil and gas skills base in Houston to new roles – again, reflecting the same situation in the North Sea.

“One challenge we have in Houston is the transition of our energy workforce. The oil and gas industry has achieved such incredibly efficiency gains in producing the same amount of oil and gas with about a third fewer workers.

“So we have a lot of energy workers in Houston that have, unfortunately, gone through layoffs and we are proactively trying to transition that talent into high-growth opportunities in the energy sector.”

Beceiro cited a solar firm, Sunnova, which recently took on 100 oil and gas engineers, as one of “many examples where energy sectors are taking advantage of the oil and gas talent”.

“We’re trying to understand the types of companies, the types of technology areas we can attract to Houston to take on of some of those workers.”

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