San Jose likes to be the center of innovation. You’d almost think the city craves it, considering the latest vision set forth by city officials. Last October, Mayor Chuck Reed announced San Jose’s Green Vision, a quest to be a sustainable city thriving on 100% renewable energy and clean living. And they’re looking to accomplish this through a set of 10 goals to be achieved by 2023.
Green Vision Goals
Within 15 years, the City of San José in tandem with its residents and businesses will:
1. Create 25,000 Clean Tech jobs as the World Center of Clean Tech Innovation
2. Reduce per capita energy use by 50 percent
3. Receive 100 percent of our electrical power from clean renewable sources
4. Build or retrofit 50 million square feet of green buildings
5. Divert 100 percent of the waste from our landfill and convert waste to energy
6. Recycle or beneficially reuse 100 percent of our wastewater (100 million gallons per day)
7. Adopt a General Plan with measurable standards for sustainable development
8. Ensure that 100 percent of public fleet vehicles run on alternative fuels
9. Plant 100,000 new trees and replace 100 percent of our streetlights with smart, zero-emission lighting
10. Create 100 miles of interconnected trails
At first glance, these objectives make it look like San Jose is taking one of those publicity dives in which lofty goals are set and somewhat worked towards, but at each annual review the due dates are pushed farther and farther back. However, after reading the Green Vision plan and learning more about what San Jose has already accomplished, it seems that the city is truly going to be a mover and shaker in making sustainability not just a reality, but the norm among Americans. Colin O’Mara, Clean Technology Officer, took the time to talk with me more about the Green Vision, and after our conversation, I’m more excited than ever to live a short 3 hours from what is possibly going to be the historic city where global warming shifted from “eminent doom” to “that scary thing that almost happened, but we learned better just in time.”
To be 100% sustainable and clean, a city needs both the physical infrastructure and policy infrastructure. The whole picture needs to be analyzed and planned for so that when the technology arrives, foundations and regulations are already in place. That is mainly the part of the process San Jose is working on right now. For instance, the city is currently demonstrating to the state of California that LED streetlamps are needed and work, so that the state will change its policy of not allowing LED lights to be used in streetlamps.
Additionally, San Jose wants to be able to utilize areas like landfills for generating energy which can then be credited to their account, something not currently allowed, so the city is trying to get that policy changed as well. The city is also analyzing what alternative energy solutions are best for different scenarios so that they pick the most effective way-ahead. In the solar sector, they’re assessing what areas of the city work best for the different types of solar, including PV, thin-film, and concentrated.
They’re researching biosolid energy transformation and trying to figure out if it is more efficient to create fuel or electricity out of waste. The city is already talking to several companies that specialize in trash-to-tank technology. Much research and careful planning is going on, which is a solid sign that San Jose is intensely serious about these goals and that a successful end result is most important.
So, why the 15 year timeframe? O’Mara said that the timeframe is based on historical cycles of developing and integrating technology in the Silicon Valley. It takes between 5 and 10 years to get a product developed, tested and finalized, and another 5 to 10 years to see that product fully integrated into the public. This puts their 15 year timeframe right in the middle of that cycle. And while San Jose is just getting started, they’re already seeing areas in which they’re ahead of schedule, thanks to rapid advancements in sustainable energy technology.
And the city isn’t planning on going it alone – they recognize that companies in the green tech industry have to pull their weight. Demanding companies provide what people need has already proven an effective method for making headway on these goals. At the kick off of the last Clean Tech Open, Mayor Reed challenged solar companies to create zero-cost-down solar systems so that residents can see immediate savings on a new rooftop solar system. After 60 days, seven companies came back with plans. Seven companies (!!) illustrated that if the financing is done correctly, it is possible for anyone, not just rich folks, to be able to install solar systems and see an immediate savings on their power bill. O’Mara clarified that, especially in San Jose, the foundation for sustainability already exists – the knowledge, the products, and the demand. So now, achieving sustainability will come from cities insisting that companies create what is needed by the public in order to live sustainably.
I asked O’Mara about how they came up with the number of 25,000 new jobs created through this endeavor. O’Mara said that San Jose wants to make these goals achieved through local resources. Therefore not only are bay-area research and development positions filled, but so are manufacturing and production positions, boosting the local economy and strengthening local businesses. Three broad areas are the focus: renewable energy, green building, and transportation. Ponder for a moment the massive listing of jobs needed in those three areas, from the science to the creation to the dissemination and installation of new technology. If the city is concentrating on achieving goals specifically through local means, then 25,000 new jobs seems like a highly attainable number.
Going further on the impact of this project on the economy, O’Mara put into focus the bigger picture. When looking at the domino effect of San Jose’s success on other major cities, we’re looking at a rebuilding of the middle class. San Jose’s success can bring forth the launch of similar programs across the US. With the demand for sustainable products and energy sources comes the need for green collar jobs – those jobs in manufacturing, installation and maintenance of sustainable products and processes – which will begin to pay as well as the research and development positions. From installing new solar panels to retrofitting urban buildings, the list of potential job openings seems endless. San Jose is looking to prove both that living green is not only possible, but it is also profitable.
When San Jose’s green goals were first announced, experts were quick to note that the list smacked of pie-in-the-sky notions and posturing. But looking at all the advancements we’ve seen since just last October in waste-to-fuel, solar, urban wind, hybrid and alternative fuel cars, traffic solutions and more, these experts may well be tasting shoe leather right about now.
I will be following up with the progress of San Jose’s Green Vision and posting on it as new advancements occur.