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Growing San Diego’s Green Economy

CleanTECH San Diego Sees Bright Future

Audio

Aired 6/25/10

An organization called "CleanTECH San Diego" hopes to make San Diego a hub for clean technology businesses and manufacturing. CleanTech could be an economic boon to the region.

An organization called "CleanTECH San Diego" hopes to make San Diego a hub for clean technology businesses and manufacturing. CleanTech could be an economic boon to the region.

Imagine a future where the car you drive is powered by algae. That's one of the promising research projects underway in San Diego's growing Clean Technology sector.

What is clean technology?

"Any new technology or any business model that advances economic environmental and social profitability," said Holly Lepree, Vice President of CleanTECH San Diego.

CleanTECH San Diego is a non-profit member-based organization which began three years ago.

Its primary job is to make it easier for clean tech businesses to get started and flourish in San Diego.

Lepree said more than 700 companies in San Diego are members.

She said as the companies turn profits, they're adding needed jobs in the region.

"While there are small to medium-sized companies, because that's typically what we house here in our region, there continues to be job growth," said Lepree. "For example, Siliken Renewable Energy. They have about 100 full-time employees and they expect to double that in 2011."

Lepree said Siliken, which makes solar modules, is one example of the trend toward making the green tech sector an economic engine for San Diego.

University of San Diego economics professor Alan Gin agrees.

"Cleantech is one of the key sectors that have been targeted by local officials in terms of future economic growth," said Gin. It's up there with defense/security, communications software and medical biotech as one of the key sectors that's going to drive San Diego's economy in the future."

One key factor driving the clean tech space in San Diego is research.

San Diego researchers are now working to develop fuel cell technology, biofuels such as algae and green building materials among other projects.

"Our biggest asset in the region by far are the universities and the research institutes. I mean that's where it all comes from," said Lepree.

Lepree said the key is to bring those great ideas from the lab into the marketplace.

Many of those innovative projects come from UC San Diego.

"It's a wonderful boon for all the universities around town," said Tony Hayment, Director of UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "New ideas that arise from San Diego State or UC San Diego or Scripps or any of the institutes on the Mesa, from PSRI or Salk, all these ideas can get in front of people very quickly and in a supportive and friendly environment."

A new partnership between the city of San Diego, local universities and private companies is intended to promote the growth of the local clean tech industry.

Three clean tech research projects, two at UCSD and one at San Diego State University, were recently awarded $50,000 grants from the program.

The drive by CleanTECH San Diego to encourage smaller companies and university researchers also helps established companies.

"CleanTech San Diego most directly benefits the regional economy and companies like Borrego Solar and the cleantech space by attracting capital to the region," said Aaron Hall, president of Borrego Solar.

"This directly brings many solar projects to fruition which allows Borrego to grow," Hall continued. "We've grown our staff by more than 30 percent in the last year and growing our revenues by 100 percent this year."

He said the company has grown from 45 to more than 70 employees and will add more next year.

Hall said as his company gets more work, so do others in San Diego.

"We hire contractors, electrical contractors, roofers in the struggling building industry, as well as ancillary services like legal firms, engineering firms, etc.," said Hall.

One example is the condo/retail development project Pacific Station in Encinitas, which is relying on green technology.

"The whole project is going to be a LEED Silver certified project, so it's a green project all around," said project developer John DeWald. "Solar is just one element of that. But it has brought interest for office tenants as well as retail tenants and Whole Foods in that being in a green building is important to them."

Holly Lepree with CleanTECH San Diego said it's that kind of orientation - sustainability, the use of green technologies - that bodes well for the growing CleanTECH industry in San Diego.

To paraphrase a line from the film Wall Street: "green is good."

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