Updated Jun 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Clean energy player Greentown Labs to open space in oil capital Houston

Illustration of an oil barrel with plants growing from it.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Greentown Labs, the big Boston-area incubator of clean technology startups, is opening a second space in Houston, the heart of the U.S. oil industry.

Why it matters: It shows efforts to accelerate changes are already underway in the energy ecosystem even as fossil fuels remain dominant, and the cross-pollination between emerging and legacy industries.

  • It will be the city's first "climatetech and cleantech-focused startup incubator," per the joint announcement with city officials and business leaders.
  • Houston officials said Greentown will be a "catalyst" to help America's fourth-largest city meet its recently unveiled climate plan.

What they're saying: "We believe the engineering strength, talent, and assets of the energy industry in Houston can and must be redeployed toward a decarbonized future," Greentown CEO Emily Reichert said in announcing the move."Climate change cannot be solved from the coasts — we need all hands on deck at this time," she said.

  • The nine-year-old outfit said it's initially providing 30,000 square feet of "prototyping lab" and office space for up to 50 startups.

The big picture via the Houston Chronicle: "Houston has tried in fits and starts to capitalize on its expertise and experience in fossil fuel energy to expand on the growth of renewables."

  • "But the effort has been hampered by insufficient venture capital that favors coastal startups, a wary attitude about the legitimacy of climate change from the conservative oil and gas industry, and few government policies that encourage green energy."

The intrigue: Working with fossil fuel companies is not new for Greentown — which has years-long relationships with Shell and Chevron — or startups in general.

  • Large oil companies are getting more active in low-carbon energy tech and setting climate goals, even as fossil fuels receive the overwhelming share of their investment.
  • The mining and oil heavyweight BHP is a new Greentown partner, and BHP's Michelle Thomas said "we need to leverage those outside our company and outside our industry to think of new ways to reach our goals."

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