Green initiatives driven by local governments are popping up all over the United States, but San Jose, Calif., might be taking the movement further than any other city. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed recently announced a 15-year, "Green Vision" plan to power nearly the entire city with renewable and efficient energy technologies.

Conserving energy is just one goal of the initiative. Reed sees it as a way to spur job creation, said Michelle McGurk, public information officer of the San Jose mayor's office. As demand for green IT expands, a growing number of experts view energy- efficient technologies as a potential source of numerous, high-paying jobs.

San Jose's work force is poised to make the city's lofty green goal a reality, said Collin O'Mara, clean technology policy strategist for the city.

"We have a lot of IT companies looking to get involved in the energy monitoring business. We also have many architectural firms that are now becoming green building experts," O'Mara said. "We're seeing it over and over again - companies are really trying to become innovative and drive the products that we're going to need to become more sustainable."

Power Source
To power the entire city with renewable energy, San Jose will attempt to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent. California already has mandated that all of its public utilities must generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 - but that requirement might climb to 33 percent by 2020, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

San Jose's eventual target is a 100-percent renewable energy benchmark. The city's hopes for meeting this aggressive goal rest on the market's ability to deliver new innovations during the next few years. San Jose's work force is ideally suited to deliver the necessary technology, O'Mara said.   

"We have one of the most talented work forces in the country. We have access to venture capital dollars. We have a growing consumer base that is more advanced than other parts of the country; demand more green products. Combine that with the high-tech research institutions in the area, like the University of California, Berkeley; San Jose State University; and University of California, Santa Cruz," O'Mara said, adding that promising technologies were already emerging in San Jose.

"We're seeing a real renaissance in onsite solar-power generation. It's not just the traditional photovoltaic cells," he continued. "We're seeing a lot of great innovation in solar thermal technology, where they concentrate the power of the sun to generate electricity. We're also seeing an amazing innovation with thin film. Instead of the bulkier voltaic cells, it's a more malleable purchase, so you can put it on curved areas."

The city plans to be a big part of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's initiative encouraging citizens to install 1 million solar roofs by 2018. The initiative aims to allow homeowners who install solar panels to sell back the excess energy they produce to their local public utilities. Customers using Pacific Gas and Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power can participate in the program.

"Our overall goal is to have 100,000 of Gov. Schwarzenegger's 1 million solar roofs installed here in San Jose," McGurk said.

However, an obstacle is blocking the city from that goal. California Public Utilities Commission regulations block San Jose citizens from selling power to their local public utilities. Policy analysts in Mayor Reed's office are exploring ways to change those regulations, said McGurk.

More than 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in San Jose come from lighting, according to O'Mara. Many local governments are switching traffic lights to light-emitting diode (LED) technology, which use between 82 percent and 93 percent less energy than traditional incandescent lights, according to the Lighting Design Lab, a project of the nonprofit Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. LED

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.