(Renewable) Energy Capital of the World?

Houston’s commercial real estate market boomed in 2015, with the oil industry plans to expand. But the oil market’s bust has made uncertainty the rule in 2016. The lights are still on in Houston, though, as the city finds different ways to renew its status as energy capital of the world.


Katie Haugland
Katie Haugland

In January 2016, Houston ranked first among the EPA’s top 30 Local Government list of green power users of the Green Power Partnership. The honor was achieved through the annual use of nearly 1,000,000,000 kWh (yes, that’s a billion) of green power, which accounts for 80% of the city’s electricity use. The push for renewables to power the city of Houston was first made back in 2007, when then-Mayor Bill White negotiated a contract that promised wind power would account for 30% of the city government’s usage. White’s successor, Annise Parker, continued to expand the city’s efforts.


Part of that expansion includes a significant brownfield redevelopment program that helps to repurpose and revitalize abandoned areas of the city, and the inclusive Green Office Challenge, which gets everyone from architects to builders to tenants considering sustainability. But if there’s one area in which Houston seems to be stalling on progress, it’s the transition to sustainable mobility, particularly electric vehicles.


According to a report of the ICCT which monitors the promotion of EVs in 25 US cities, Houston is far behind in terms of installed chargers per capita, vehicle promotion actions, and share of EVs in total new vehicles.


Rethinking transport is a tough sell in this notoriously car-addicted, sprawling city, and according to a 2015 survey from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the biggest quality of life problem is traffic. Further, the Houston-Sugar Land-Bayton metropolitan area is also ranked 7th on the Pedestrian Danger Index of the National Complete Streets Coalition of Smart Growth America.


Patrick Feller
Patrick Feller


Houston does have a very active proponent of walkable urbanism and an ambitious Bayou Greenways program that we have introduced in an earlier blogpost. Houston does also have a great bikeway network and bike sharing system, but these continue to be primarily used for recreation, not commuting. The most used bike sharing kiosks are located near the city’s parks and trail system and most of the trips are round trips. This means that bikes and parks are both used and appreciated by Houstonians, but it also means that the bike sharing system as it exists now is not going to do much to minimize traffic congestion.


However, the city hasn’t given up on trying to get more people choosing the two-wheeled commute option, announcing late last year that $47 million will be invested in Houston’s BCycle to nearly quadruple the number of kiosks and bikes available.


And some Houstonians have taken the drive to reduce traffic issues into their own hands. There’s this NuRide website which offers the possibility to connect with other people for carpooling in the Houston area, and, one of our favorites, the Mobility NOW! tv channel — a television show about transportation issues and projects in the Houston-Galveston area – that can be watched on YouTube. The latest episode is about biking:




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