lights, depending on the model, can last for years, while incandescent lights last for months. San Jose already has LED traffic lights, but wants to go a step further, powering each with a solar harvesting device.

Overall, the city expects to invest in a diverse combination of emerging renewable technologies to make the 100-percent goal possible.

"We'll do some things with fuel cell technology and the electric chemical technology that's coming out," O'Mara said. "There are a lot of opportunities with water throughout the coastal area. We're not saying that 100 percent of it has to be derived onsite in the city, but the power that we're buying will come from renewable sources."

Tapping Landfills
San Jose already has one of the highest recycling rates in the country: Sixty-two percent of its garbage is recycled. The city plans to ramp up those efforts with a campaign encouraging residents to purchase easily recyclable products. San Jose plans to convert to energy, anything that is remaining in the city landfills, helping it reach another green goal - converting 100 percent of San Jose landfill waste to energy.

"The idea is to make it a continuous string where we're diverting and recycling as much as possible. The little bit that's left on the biosolid side, we're converting to energy. That's what we're talking about when we say 'waste-to-energy.' We're not talking about incinerators. The problem with those is they create power, but they pollute," O'Mara said.

Green IT
Most government data centers consume huge amounts of power. Many local governments pursuing green initiatives include data center overhauls, which consolidate servers and deploy more efficient cooling systems.

San Jose was ahead of the game on green IT. In 2005, San Jose built a new city hall building and relocated several departments to it. Before the move, those departments occupied several buildings, each with its own data center. Sharing one data center enabled those agencies to slash power consumption. The facility also uses a cooling system that sucks in the cold air from outdoors at night to naturally cool the equipment.

"By mixing [cooler] outside air with the chilled water, we're able to reduce the amount of water we need to chill," said Vijay Sammeta, division manager for IT in San Jose. The city also is working to further reduce data center power consumption with server virtualization technology. This allows the work of up to 10 normal servers to be done on one by transforming hardware into software.

The city recently switched to more energy-efficient desktops and laptops. It also mandated that all the city's electronic IT hardware must be approved by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). The EPEAT is a set of energy- efficiency criteria created by the nonprofit Zero Waste Alliance through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many vendors view it as the strictest standard to meet for green products. 

 "We've seen about 40 [percent] to 50 percent less energy use coming out of those [new computers] than the ones we were buying five to six months ago," Sammetta said. "We are now redoing our desktop contract to incorporate green requirements and calculating energy savings as part of the total cost of ownership."

He said he hoped the city would implement a five-year replacement cycle for that equipment as part of its green agenda. That would enable the city's IT to keep up-to-date with energy-efficient hardware, making the city greener. But Sammeta said persuading city leaders to fund that replacement cycle has been difficult because San Jose is struggling with a tight budget right now.

"The opportunity is right because manufacturing from different vendors, especially the big players, has really gotten on board," he said. "It means investing in those technologies, getting on a PC replacement cycle on a four- or five-year cycle, as opposed to 10 years."

Andy Opsahl  | 

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