Part One in a Three-Part Series on HARC’s program of work and research utilizing LiDAR in the Houston-Galveston region.
From Data to Images
Research creates such vast opportunity. The opportunity to address the challenges created from climate change. The opportunity to help communities address air quality and pollution. The opportunity to develop energy solutions for the future. The opportunity to have a timely dialogue with policy and community leaders.
Now in our 37th year, it is these opportunities that guide our organization into the next decade. HARC embraces 2020 and the challenges and opportunities to come. We are honored to continue to dig deeper and reach further as an independent research organization.
And as the end of 2019 approaches and another decade begins, here is a look back on key highlights:
Resilience Work in the Region
In late January, HARC released a special, green paper report, “Funding Resilience in the Greater Houston Region: Synopsis from a Public-Private Sector Workshop.” Intended for public and private sector leaders, the green paper addresses how to fund the critical infrastructure required to maintain the safety and well-being of cities and communities. The report offers specific examples of how communities can fund resilience strategies along with considerations that should be given to the built and the natural environments. While the Harris County bond funds and federal dollars are important to the recovery of the Greater Houston region post-Harvey, long-term resilience will require new and innovative public and private investment.
Throughout the year, HARC worked in partnership with the City of Houston to develop the city’s Climate Action Plan. With several town halls hosted and data collected, a first draft was released in August. An important milestone, this roadmap for the City, businesses, residents, and communities will analyze current emission sources and evaluate the health, safety, and economic benefits of various development and policy options that could bring Houston closer to a carbon-neutral future. HARC serves as the technical advisor and research leader on the project. Directed by a team including Dr. Gavin Dillingham, Marina Badoian-Kriticos, and Dr. Meredith Jennings, researchers will provide expertise and modeling to support the development of the most effective climate mitigation measures in the region. HARC’s ongoing work on matters of regional resilience provides a context for these efforts.
A draft of the Climate Action Plan can be accessed here. The final draft will be completed early next year.
Geospatial and Analytics
During 2019, HARC's geospatial and analytics capabilities increased interactivity with project stakeholders and partners. In October, HARC took delivery of high-accuracy LiDAR data flown in 2018 for the greater Houston-Galveston region. The dataset includes both elevation data points as well as building footprints. HARC’s researchers are using the data to create new information that answers questions about infrastructure vulnerability and the resilience benefits of natural landscapes.
LiDAR represents only the latest resource of the vast data collection that HARC manages. Please visit our online library to view datasets and learn more. For more information about conducting a project with HARC, contact the HARC Geospatial & Analytics team at HARCGIS@HARCresearch.org or visit our webpage at GIS.HARCresearch.org to see our work.
People and Nature Speaker Series
HARC’s People & Nature Speaker Series on May 1st welcomed Jigar Shah, President, and Co-founder of Generate Capital and founder and former CEO of SunEdison. Mr. Shah is also an expert on business model innovation and authored the book, Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy. Jigar maintains that climate solutions require innovative capital solutions to be able to solve the big problems of our time.
A live audience Q and A engaged participants to submit questions in real-time to Jigar and Lisa Gonzalez, moderator and HARC President & CEO. Mr. Shah covered topics including the carbon tax, the capital need for renewable energy, and the growing population trends and how density can impact the future sustainability of regions. Held at the University of Houston’s (UH) Student Center South Theater, the event had over 150 in attendance including leadership from UH Energy and the student-led Energy Coalition. Students and educators were provided free registration thanks to generous support from Walter P Moore.
HARC’s Green Headquarters
It was a big year for the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum headquarters that HARC calls home. On June 27th HARC’s building and campus were named the Project of the Year at the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Texas Chapter Leadership Awards ceremony. The USGBC Leadership Awards celebrate sustainable green buildings across the state showcasing projects that exemplify USGBC tools and standards to further sustainability. The event highlights the outstanding projects and people that are leading to build a more sustainable future for Texas.
Our building’s solar photovoltaic array has generated over 103,000 kWh in 2019, resulting in the generation of 122% of our on-site utilized power and 234 net-zero energy days since the beginning of the year. The extra power that we generate goes to the electric grid to provide other entities with clean renewable energy.
In November, HARC's LEED Platinum headquarters reached an Energy Star score of 99. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), HARC's building now operates in the top 1% of the most energy-efficient office buildings in the United States. In the last twelve months alone, HARC reduced its energy consumption by 20%, improving the way HARC operates its heating, ventilation, air conditioning system and other energy loads to cover our staff and visitors' needs.
Climate and Energy
In July, CARAT (the Climate Analytics Risk Assessment Tool), developed by a multi-disciplinary HARC team comprised of Marina Badoian-Kriticos, Dr. Gavin Dillingham, Dr. Stephanie Glenn, and Dr. Meredith Jennings was accepted in EPICenter’s incubator business startup program out of San Antonio. CPS Energy, Itron, Landis+Gyr and OCI Solar Power founded EPIcenter in 2015 to propel energy innovation. Technology incubators are becoming increasingly common, but rare are those centered exclusively on energy innovation. The EPIcenter Energy Incubator and Accelerator provides a variety of services for emerging businesses focused on the advancement of energy innovation and technology. CARAT will support energy planning for facilities and delivery considering future physical climate risk.
In September, HARC kicked off another year of the Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership (CHP TAP). A key focus for the next round of CHP TAP workshops and webinars is to work with communities and the private sector to make critical infrastructure more resilient to power disruptions from major natural disasters. During 2019, HARC provided multiple presentations on how organizations and communities can improve resilience using CHP technology. HARC also conducted resilience planning activities across the Southcentral and Upper-West CHP TAP regions, spanning eleven states. In 2020, HARC will continue to work with local governments, community organizations, tribes, state agencies, and the private sector on energy resilience plans.
Also in September, HARC partnered with the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), to create the Residential Passive Survivability guide, designed to help Texas residents identify passive survivability strategies applicable to various housing situations. This online tool serves homeowners and residents as a resource to maintain, build, or renovate homes to increase energy efficiency, resilience, and sustainability.
In 2018, HARC launched the Flaring Issues, Solutions and Technologies (FIST) project to evaluate the current state of technologies addressing flaring of natural gas at wells sites through a series of stakeholder workshops across the U.S. In October, HARC released the white paper, ‘Recommendations to Address Flaring Issues, Solutions and Technologies’.
Watersheds and Coastal Ecosystems
2019 was an important year in the expansion of our water research to include waterway trash and marine debris. HARC also continued our work with stakeholders on the implementation of the Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan and released the fifth update of the Galveston Bay Report Card in August.
In May our team partnered with the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the and the Texas Water Resources Institute to host a riparian and stream ecosystems training for the Double Bayou and Cedar Bayou Watersheds. HARC participated in the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium and we hope that you will read the Consortium’s latest reports on drainage, detention, and development regulations.
The Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC released the fifth annual Galveston Bay Report Card on Wednesday, August 28th.The Report Card is a citizen-driven, science-based grading system supported by Houston Endowment and the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program. Since announcing the results, the Report Card team has been hard at work sharing the findings and creating opportunities for public involvement through conservation activities to maintain and improve the health of Galveston Bay. This year, the Report Card team has reached over 2,000 people with presentations, toured the Bay with 30 Spanish-language bloggers, and armed 174 Report Card Champions with tools to become conservation leaders.
The future health of our region’s water resources is important today and tomorrow. HARC will continue to develop research initiatives and partnerships to bring forward science-based and innovative solutions for the future.
Air pollution is a pressing concern that affects our health and quality of life. Traditional ways of measuring ambient air quality have primarily relied on permanent and semi-permanent stationary enclosures. These “fixed” monitors lack resolution in both space and time, limiting their ability to provide air quality data and exposure information at other locations of interest or after emissions events and accidental releases. In 2015, HARC developed a mobile air quality monitoring laboratory to allow researchers to analyze “real-world” pollution levels in communities that may be at risk, wherever those communities and sites may be. The HARC mobile lab, which can be deployed rapidly and used remotely almost anywhere with vehicular access, can simultaneously measure multiple pollutants to a quantifiable standard while either stationary or in motion. In 2019, our mobile lab implemented upgrades to its monitoring systems and our research team will be working in partnership with Harris County on a variety of projects in the new year.
HARC will continue to create opportunities through our applied research in 2020. We are thankful and honored to work with our partners to build awareness about sustainability solutions and the need for science-based action. HARC thanks our Board of Directors, Advisory Council, funders and partners for the ability to uphold the legacy of our founder, George P. Mitchell. Thank you all for the support and for being an integral part of our most recent achievements and milestones.