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The Future of Cleantech in Less than 60 Minutes

  |   Cleantech Industry News, Cleantech San Diego, Energy Efficiency, Smart Cities San Diego

The recent “60 Minutes” largely negative piece on the clean technology sector has precipitated both anger and anxiety from those of us who believe in the future of clean technology, both as a vehicle to a more sustainable world, and as an economic driver. From my perspective, other than as shock value, the piece so missed the mark of what is happening today that it was meaningless before the final seconds ticket off the stopwatch. And here’s why.

When the San Diego community came together six years ago to create CleanTECH San Diego as the vehicle to make San Diego a cleantech business center, it saw a future of big projects and radical changes in how society does everything from cars to buildings to light bulbs. The thinking was that if we could just create enough solar and wind production, and make complex changes to how people build and occupied real estate, all would be well. This vision, shared in Washington and Sacramento and elsewhere in the world, lead to big projects and big budgets, often subsidized by the public sector. As with any new, complex experimental effort, some succeeded and some failed.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was wise to think and act with a bold vision and progressive policies. Absent them, we would not have the extraordinary increase in renewable energy production, nor the reality that no one will build a new non-LEED certified building today, nor the ever increasing numbers of electric and hybrid vehicles on our San Diego highways. None of these, and many other sustainable outcomes, would have happened absent these ambitions. Taking the risks and providing the leadership necessary to reach and implement aggressive goals is part of the culture in San Diego.

More importantly, these large projects and efforts are making possible today’s even larger opportunity in cleantech – implementation and scaling. What difference does it make if we produce lots of renewable power if it cannot be used when needed, plus be so reliable that its existence allows for the reduction in fossil fuel back-up facilities? What does it matter if a “smart building” is made dumb by how we occupy and use it? The obvious answer is not much.

So what happens whenever there is a need to figure out how to maximize a new resource? Communities, universities, and private companies collaborate to find better solutions. This is the next and exciting phase of the cleantech revolution. Battery technology will be developed sufficient to store all that mid-day sun needed for dinner-time electricity. There already exist data and software systems that maximize efficiency in buildings of all types. In fact, many of the technologies needed to dramatically decrease total energy demand, whether in vehicles, homes, or commercial buildings exists today.

And this is only the beginning. More and smarter products and systems approaches are entering the market regularly. The resulting opportunities will only become more accessible and meaningful in the very near term. Of course the clean tech industry looks different today than it did only six years ago. And of course there have been mistakes and failures. But missteps in part of a revolution do not invalidate the greater good. The journey has only begun, and there will be many more bumps and direction changes in the years ahead. This is what makes the journey exciting and CleanTECH San Diego and the San Diego region are looking forward to the ride.


Jim Waring, Executive Chairman and Co-founder of CleanTECH San Diego

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