The utilities department of Palo Alto, Calif., is looking to formally establish a program that would make the Silicon Valley city a test bed for emerging energy-efficient technologies.

The Emerging Technology Demonstration Program would invite technology companies to submit proposals for their products that would be evaluated by Palo Alto Utilities and potentially tested by city residents.

Debra Lloyd, a senior resource planner with Palo Alto Utilities, said the department currently runs a similar, informal research development and demonstration program that is funded through public benefits charges that the department collects on gas and electric use. The budget is about $50,000, and proposals are looked at depending on who in the department has time to do it.

The new program, however, would bring that funding level up to $200,000 and formalize a process on how inquiries from companies are processed. According to Lloyd, the additional money would come out of the funds for the current fiscal year.

The first step in the new program is putting together a controlled method for how project ideas are submitted.

“We’ll be working on developing an online application form to structure the proposals that are coming in,” Lloyd explained. “On a quarterly basis, we’ll put together an evaluation team to look through those and pick some projects that we will potentially partner on.”

Lloyd said technology that improves the efficiency of processes and ideas that focus on energy efficiency and water conservation are the types of projects that Palo Alto Utilities is looking for as a part of the program.

She added that part of the criteria that’s used to evaluate a project is its applicability to the utility and customers, beneficial features and market potential, measurable local environmental benefits and process improvement.

“We’ll be looking for innovative programs — things that show potential to add value to the utility and its customers,” Lloyd said.

In the meantime, utilities personnel in Palo Alto are already busy with a variety of energy-efficient projects. According to the Palo Alto Weekly, officials have teamed with Stanford experts and private entities to work on a few things, including a program that gives commercial customers real-time data about energy use.

The Palo Alto City Council’s Policy and Services Committee unanimously approved the program on Nov. 29, but the entire council must also sign-off on it. Lloyd said the utilities department is trying to get the program on the council’s agenda for Dec. 19, but if not, it would be discussed in January 2012.

If it goes forward, Lloyd estimated getting the Emerging Technology Demonstration Program online early next year.

“We had been hoping to get the program rolling out in February, but that may be a little optimistic at this point,” Lloyd said. “But given that the first phase of the program is setting up that application form, we’re hoping [to start] not too long after the first quarter of 2012.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. He also contributes to Emergency Management magazine. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y.