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Data, agility keys to success for clean tech industry

In the seven years since Smart City San Diego — a clean tech-focused collaboration between several large local stakeholders — took shape, the number of clean tech businesses that call San Diego home has skyrocketed from 125 to more than 840.

The city is now ranked third in the Clean Tech Leadership Index and lays claim to one of the highest rates of electric vehicles per capita, an unrivaled smart grid system and what will soon be an over-abundance of solar electricity.

All of these clean tech and “smart city” measures will only have to increase to meet environmental standards set by the state and city, but bring with them economic loot to boot.

Several key players in these successes to date discussed what has made this possible, as well as where the clean tech industry is headed, at an EnergyCentral Smart Cities panel Monday morning.

Jason Anderson, president of Smart City San Diego member CleanTech San Diego, laid out several of the initiatives the collaboration, which also includes San Diego Gas & Electric, the University of California San Diego, the city of San Diego and General Electric (NYSE: GE).

The group has championed electric vehicles, including a fleet of electric car2go vehicles, the first 100 percent solar EV charging station at the San Diego Zoo, EcoLuxury apartments in Scripps Ranch, and the city as a system model of using real-time energy data to drive consumption, which is being rolled out with the Port of San Diego’s HVAC system and the US Grant hotel’s water.

The ability to use this data for waste reduction and economic gain is a key component of what makes a smart city smart, but it’s still tricky to do and will be an area of future growth. Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives at UCSD, which generates 92 percent of its electricity from its 42 megawatt microgrid, said data is the new frontier of clean tech.

“We often say we are drowning in a sea of data, but thirsty for knowledge,” Washom said.

“How do you take all that data and turn it into something that creates actionable management strategies to either improve our reliability, lower our cost or improve safety through the campus, and do that with agility?”

Agility will be the key to taking the theory of the smart city movement, which has been proven on a small scale, and apply it to an entire city or region.

“We’re going from a time when things were very rigid — there were two price tariffs per day: on peak and off peak,” Washom said. “We’re moving toward, with the ability of data communications and customer awareness, to where we will have customized as frequently as 15 or five-minute bidding cycles into the grid to orchestrate an entire state’s generation supply.”

Josh Gerber, manager of advanced technology integration at SDG&E, said the ability to reduce peak electricity demand closer to average demand is what will drive savings and generate economic benefits for customers.

“Ultimately, what’s going to lower the cost for customers is flattening the load curve, and what I mean by that is changing the ratio for peak demands to be closer to that of our average demands, because peak demands really drive investment in the system,” Gerber said.

“If we have peak loads of 5,000 megawatts once every 10 years and maybe go into that top 3 percent peak load or peak demand for a few hours every year, we still have to build enough capacity on the transmission distribution grid to be able to serve that reliably. And the more we can do to reduce peak demand closer to averages, the less we have to invest in infrastructure on the system.”

Another milestone in the advancement of San Diego as a smart city is the incorporation of all neighborhoods, not just wealthy ones, which has been the case so far with adopting electric vehicles and EV charging stations. This is particularly important in transportation, which accounts for 45 percent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Quite frankly, all of our EV use data right now is being skewed toward the wealthy, northwest coast part of our county — and we simply cannot be distracted by that early adoption user data,” Washom said.

“What we really need to do is be in at-risk communities from an environmental point of view, and community development, because until we provide those individuals who are either apartment or condo dwellers access to EV charging, we will not meet our goals.”

Jacques Chirazi, clean tech program manager for the city of San Diego, said the city recognizes the problem and is working on it. The goal of the Climate Action Plan is to have 30,000 EV stations up and running by 2035.

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