Houston's SXSW = a global Energy Technology Conference (ETC)I was thinking last night about how cities carve out distinctive industry niches for themselves, like Silicon Valley and Austin in technology. It occurs to me that energy technology of all kinds is going to be a major world issue for some time to come, as global demand grows in the developing world, fossil fuels become harder to extract, and carbon and pollution concerns get addressed. There are all sorts of things going on, from biofuels to wind to solar to new approaches to traditional sources (like tar sands, oil shale, and coal-to-liquids). How can Houston put itself at the center of this new technology wave?
It's unrealistic to think all - or even most - of that research and those startups will be directly based here in a global economy connected by the internet. Geographic proximity is just not as critical as it was even a decade ago. But what we can certainly do is be the place the world gets together about energy by hosting an annual global mega-conference on energy technology.
The model I'm thinking about here is the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) mega-conference in Austin every year focused on music, movies, and interactive media. It grew from something pretty small to a true mega-event that gets national and even international coverage every year. We need a similar event, starting modestly but growing aggressively. One that brings together academic researchers, inventors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, policy makers, and the big energy companies (who can be researchers, innovators, and technology buyers themselves). It should be known as THE critical annual event for people who want to keep up with what's going on in the realm of energy technology.
Of course we already host a more narrowly focused event, the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), which is quite large itself. This would be the broader Energy Technology Conference (ETC, instead of OTC), and it probably ought to be scheduled along with the OTC - either right before, after, or even together - to take advantage of all the energy talent that will already be in town for the OTC, especially international visitors. There would obviously be a lot of synergy between the two, and the OTC can help the ETC get instant critical mass.
Becoming a true "Silicon Valley for energy technology" may be a bit overambitious, but this kind of conference could go a long way to cementing our central role in this critical global industry. It's the kind of publicity you can't buy for our identity and brand, which, in turn, will attract more research, talent and capital locally. If you know people at the Greater Houston Partnership or the Convention and Visitors Bureau, be sure to pass this post along. Maybe they know the right people to get an event like this off the ground?...
Update: a followup post on this topic.
Update2 6/24/11: It's happening!