San Francisco and San Jose are setting examples for other cities in our nation by being renewable energy hotbeds. However, the cities are taking very different approaches. San Francisco is more focused on putting cash incentives and city-based financing into the hands of the consumer to make renewable energy installations more feasible. On the other hand, San Jose is skipping consumer subsidies and focusing on developing the local renewable energy industry, reducing the product innovation cycle and time-to-market.
I spoke with Collin O’Mara, San Jose’s Clean Tech Strategist (How many cities have this dedicated job position do you think?). There are many clean tech initiatives going on in San Jose, so much so that it sounded like his head was spinning. He spewed forth about 20 different plans in about 30 minutes. I won’t outline all their goals here (go here to see them), but I will tell you they are ambitious, to say the least. They want to be the clean tech center of the world, and I hope they pull that off. I read their “green vision” and I like where they’re focusing.
An important question that Collin wants San Jose to answer is: “How do we get your new products to market as quick as possible?” A big solution to the problem was building a San Jose UL testing lab. If you want your products on the market, they need to be UL tested. Before that facility opened, the nearest solar testing labs were in Arizona (saddled with up to year-long backlogs). Now San Jose has the largest working photovoltaic testing facility in the world.
Another example of SJ banking on industry instead of broad subsidies was the San Jose Solar Challange. Mayor Reed implored solar companies to develop a way for San Jose’ers to install solar energy with no up front costs by creative financing structures. They got some good results from this that will definitely scale to other cities. Hey, if you want something, you gotta ask for it.
The bottom line is that if you are a budding clean tech company trying to bring some products from design to market, San Jose’s gonna try to make that as easy as possible for you. They’ll help you in many ways, so it’s a good place to be. Collin then mentioned about four zillion clean tech companies focused in San Jose that I won’t list here.
As a side note: I’ve noted before that my biggest hopes for market-changing solar tech in the very near term come from two product ideas: the integrated PV+Hot Water panels and Micro-Inverters. Collin agreed that these are exciting technologies.
While San Jose might be a great place to call home if you’re a clean tech startup, San Francisco has some VERY strong initiatives focusing on the consumer, including the San Francisco Solar Incentive Program that gives up to $6000 per residential meter and even more for businesses. San Francisco is also working with the city of Berkeley to create a low interest loan program to make the solar out-of-pocket expense more bearable for its citizens. Smaller power bills and increased cost of doing business in San Francisco make some of the zero-financing programs no dice here. The above measures are going to help fix that and then some.
Both SF and SJ are winners of the 2008 Solar cities grants. SF is using some of this partnership money to run train the trainers meetings. The city trains proactive citizens to explain the fundamentals of solar energy to their neighbors, tennis clubs, bridge groups, whatever. I know that when citizens organize group purchases of solar energy they are much more effective in making a difference, because everyone feels like the right questions are being asked to the installer and everyone feels more comfortable. I have high hopes for this plan. Finally, although I am biased obviously, I hope we can get some aid from the city to get the word out about One Block Off the Grid’s second run in here in SF, and hopefully triple the success of the first round.
Last modified: September 15, 2008