Fifteen years ago, as California legislators were hashing out the details of the state’s landmark climate legislation AB32, a group of investors, educators and entrepreneurs were coincidentally hashing out a project of their own – the founding of Cleantech San Diego, an organization dedicated to promoting innovation in energy and other sustainability technologies.
“Leaders around the region at that time really saw the cleantech sector being another economic pillar in San Diego,” said Cleantech San Diego President and CEO Jason Anderson.
“With abundant sunshine and talent from top-notch, nearby universities, San Diego was well positioned to create a cleantech sector in the region,” he added. “And as we saw more and more regulations coming out from the state level, the private sector would have to respond to that to meet some of our energy goals.”
Over the years, Cleantech San Diego’s focus as an organization has been to accelerate clean energy adoption here in the region, Anderson said. “Obviously for environmental benefits, but more importantly, I think to us right now is from the business side just really seeing the growth of this sector and the economic impact of this sector.”
According to Cleantech San Diego data, the industry supports about 40,000 jobs with the average salary around $160,000.
San Diego is second in the U.S. for rooftop solar installations and there are almost 3,000 energy storage projects in the region. There are also around 74,000 electric vehicles on the roads. All this amounts to a $9 billion impact that the cleantech industry has on the region’s economy.
“We’re not the military, we’re not tourism, we’re not the life science industry, but I think we hold our own,” Anderson said. “It continues to show this region’s leadership in this space, and I don’t think those numbers are going to shrink any time soon, especially as the state continues to move forward and now we have an administration in D.C. that is continuing to move forward in being really aggressive with some of these goals and our city as well. We’re seeing more and more activity here in our region and that’s obviously a good thing.”
In promoting growth of the cleantech industry, Cleantech San Diego’s work includes advocating for policies that promote renewable energy at the local, state and national level. It also has specific programs like helping cities retrofit streetlights to LED or helping school districts apply for Prop 39 funds for energy retrofits and solar installation.
Cleantech San Diego also promotes sustainability innovation through hosting events and by speaking at conferences all over world. “We see more and more investment in our region as it relates to renewable energy and clean technology,” Anderson said.
Energy Innovation Network
In 2016, Cleantech San Diego received a grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to launch the Southern California Energy Innovation Network (SCEIN) with partners from venture groups, economic development corporations. SCEIN’s goal is to act as an accelerator for early-stage cleantech companies.
“What’s unique about our program is that because Cleantech San Diego is a trade association, we’re a private membership-based organization, we have access to all these energy domain experts that can mentor the companies, work with the companies, find out what their place is in the market, help them analyze the market, help them go out to find funding. So the program has been quite successful,” Anderson said.
Over the life of the program, SCEIN has worked with 56 companies, with 39 companies currently still in the program. Those companies employ almost 400 people; have raised about $268 million in investment; and hold 162 approved patents.
“What we’re really excited about is they got a pretty diverse C-suite – 76% of the companies have female, minority, veteran or LGBTQ representatives in their C-suite,” Anderson said.
One of the SCEIN success stories is Nuvve – a company based in Liberty Station that helps organizations around the world integrate electric vehicles into the grid. Nuvve started in the program with a handful of employees and continued to grow with help from Cleantech San Diego’s network of investors and contacts with potential partners, such as utility companies.
“We have received insightful regulatory and policy guidance, numerous invitations for speaking engagements at highly visible industry events,” said Nuvve CEO Gregory Poilanse. “This customized support clearly contributed to our successful Series A investment.”
Nuvve is no longer in the program and just this year went public.
“We played a part in all that, but I have to give the credit for the success of that organization to themselves,” Anderson said.
On April 28, SCEIN will hold its signature event for early-stage companies looking to be the next Nuvve in San Diego – a pitch competition with a $50,000 prize.
“For those earlier stage companies that’s a decent about of money, so we’re excited to do that,” Anderson said of the prize money supported by MUFG Union Bank.
The event – SCEIN’s first in-person since the onset of the pandemic – will be held at the University Club in downtown San Diego from 8 to 11 a.m. Presentations by SCEIN pre-revenue startups Ocean Motion Technologies, Sea Dragon Energy, Limelight Steel, ALD Technical Solutions, Sonocharge, Paranetics, Brixbo, SiLi-lon and Tyfast will be judged by a panel of industry experts.
In addition, California Energy Commission’s head of the Energy Deployment and Market Facilitation Office Erik Stokes will provide information on the CEC’s upcoming grant solicitations.
Cleantech San Diego
CEO: Jason Anderson
Headquarters: San Diego
Business: Trade association for cleantech innovation companies
Revenue: $1.4 million (2021)
Employees: 6 full-time
Notable: Cleantech San Diego was one of the first cleantech trade organizations in the country, along with New England Clean Energy Council and Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.