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Local organization earns attention from White House

Posted: January 10th, 2014 | News, Politics, Top Story | 1 Comment

CleanTECH San Diego embarking on pilot project Downtown

Dave Fidlin | Downtown News

Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, introducing CleanTECH San Diego and other recognized projects at the White House event titled, “Data to Knowledge to Action: Building new Partnerships” on Nov. 12, 2013 (Photo by Sandy Schaeffer Photography/NSF)

Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, introducing CleanTECH San Diego and other recognized projects at the White House event titled, “Data to Knowledge to Action: Building new Partnerships” on Nov. 12, 2013. (Photo by Sandy Schaeffer Photography/NSF)

A pilot project aimed at reducing energy consumption in San Diego’s Downtown area is expected to pick up steam this year. The endeavor has caught the attention of people throughout the country — including staff within the White House.

In November, President Barack Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy singled out nonprofit advocacy group CleanTECH San Diego as one of a small handful of organizations across the country looking to use data to make forward-thinking decisions about environmentally sustainable clean technology.

Last year, CleanTECH San Diego began the first step in a multi-stage process aimed at linking up portions of Downtown by creating identical operating systems that manage such resources as water, gas, electricity and waste.

Holly Smithson, president and chief operating officer of CleanTECH San Diego, said the intent is to create a unified grid-like infrastructure network in the densely populated Downtown district. She likened the proposal to a university campus — such as the University of California-San Diego — which has a series of separate buildings that operate under one system.

“What we’re looking to do here is create a model of a smart city that can be replicated in cities across the globe,” Smithson said. “I don’t mean to sound so Pollyanna, but I really do believe the sky is the limit with this project.”

The driving force behind the proposed changes, Smithson said, is a desire to reduce the city’s overall carbon footprint. In the long run, Smithson and others within CleanTECH San Diego argue new, sustainable technology will reduce operating costs by relying less on energy.

CleanTECH San Diego, formed in 2007, has enlisted the services of OSIsoft, a San Leandro, Calif.-based data software company, to assist in building the cloud-based infrastructure. During the pilot phase, it is being integrated into a group of high-profile buildings, including Petco Park, the Port of San Diego, San Diego International Airport and Hard Rock Hotel.

“This isn’t about just producing products,” Smithson said. “This is more about increasing the energy IQ of this city. We want people to see how there can be cost savings from new technology.”

The pilot project officially kicked off in May 2013 as OSIsoft engineers began designing the infrastructure. In the new year, Smithson said efforts are now being made to start integrating the software into the different buildings.

“It’s been a moving process,” said Dave Roberts, a director with OSIsoft. “We’ve been working on getting the system installed and have been working through some IT and network issues. It definitely has been an interesting process.”

With infrastructure up and running, Smithson and Roberts said data will now be collected. Later this year, a full report is expected on the amount of energy saved by combining some of the city systems within the participating buildings.

While she acknowledges the project has a long way to go, Smithson said the launch was made possible through partnerships with a number of entities, including the City of San Diego and San Diego Gas and Electric.

“We like to call this a collaboratory,” Smithson said, pointing out joint visions and a spirit of experimentation have been key since the pilot was first announced. “Public and private partnerships are absolutely key for this kind of thing.”

While Smithson and others within CleanTECH San Diego have big dreams, leaders acknowledge there could be challenges ahead if the Downtown skyline was integrated into one operating system.

“The reality is this means a loss of some control,” Smithson said. “This is about asking people to change their behaviors, and that means we need to educate the larger community about why change is needed and important.”

Other companies and organizations recognized by the White House in November for innovating clean technology included Google Earth, Amazon and a smattering of federal agencies: NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

 

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