The development of cutting edge technologies in energy efficiency and financing renewable power are carving out great opportunities for Oakland, said a former top federal energy official this week.

Jon Wellinghoff, former director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and now a partner with Stoel Rives law firm, told about 400 people attending the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce annual economic development summit that Oakland’s clean tech companies coupled with the City’s interest in sustainability make this area ripe for opportunity.

“I think Oakland has a great future in terms of energy and sustainability,” Wellinghoff said at the summit, which was devoted to energy and sustainability.  “This community is starting to be a hub for these types of energy companies.”

He noted that Energy Solutions has developed software for demand-response loading of electricity on electric grids that could avoid a lot of electricity waste.  The software measures demand and helps utilities steer electricity load to where demand is highest, rather than fully load the whole grid at all times.

Vigilent does similar energy efficiency managing on a smaller, company scale, helping companies lower energy use in their heating, cooling and ventilation systems and reduce carbon emissions, he said.

“We ultimately use – in residential, commercial and industrial uses – only half of what we put out onto the energy grid,” Wellinghoff said, “so we waste more energy than we use.”  Demand-response technologies are one promising solution to this.

Integral Group has retrofitted the Oakland International Airport so that it is among the most energy efficient airports in the nation, he said.

Meanwhile, solar finance companies Sungevity and Mosaic are changing the economics  of solar power, making it much more affordable.  Sungevity leases solar power systems to homeowners, replacing costly purchases.  It also uses Internet based photography and its own algorithms to do remote measuring of rooftops, cutting out much of the cost.  Mosaic has created an Internet-based crowd-funding mechanism so individuals can support solar by investing small, or large, amounts into solar installations on non-profits, schools, places of worship and now homes.

Coupled with rapidly falling solar panel and equipment costs, these innovations help make solar more affordable and thus more popular.

Nationwide, solar power systems are getting installed at the rate of one every four minutes, Wellinghoff said. “The reason is falling prices.”

Another opportunity he mentioned is electricity storage. If storage can be figured out, then solar, wind and other renewables will become instantly more valuable because their power generation won’t depend on the sun shining or wind blowing. Instead, power produced during times of bright sunshine can be stored for times when the sun is blocked by clouds. He mentioned a Millbrea company, Stem, for making big strides in storage.

The City of Oakland has pursued some sustainability and energy efficiency measures, such as replacing incandescent street lights with LED street lights, creating bicycle friendly commute paths and contracting with green builders. When all of the city’s street lights are replaced, Oakland will be saving 30 percent from its former electricity bill. Some city buildings and some schools are zero energy consumers, meaning that the buildings produce the energy they use. Mayor Jean Quan gave an introductory talk stating that Oakland is committed to being green.

The Chamber “Illuminating ideas Energy & Sustainability Summit” also shed some light on the work of utilities in the Bay Area around sustainability.


Waste Management Inc., which collects garbage and recyclables for Alameda and most Bay Area counties, said it captures the methane that is inevitably produced at landfills and converts it into natural gas.

“That natural gas powers our fleet of collection truck” said Susan Robinson, federal public affairs director at Waste Management.  That cut its use of gasoline by 90 percent, she said.

It has invested in recycle sorting technologies, now recycling almost all types of materials people throw out. It is investing in companies devising ways to better process and use trash.

“We have three dozen companies we are investing in now that produce technology to create energy out of trash,” Robinson said.

Meanwhile Pacific Gas & Electric said it now has 100,000 solar customers – one out of every five solar household utility customer in the nation, said Dan Halperin, director of Distributed Generation for PG&E.

But though Bay Area cities, residents, utilities and companies are cognizant of climate change and fairly active about around sustainable, low carbon energy practices, some big problems resulting from climate change could hit the Bay Area.

One is rising sea levels and thus a rising Bay.  Larry Goldzband, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, said that the Bay water level is expected to rise by two to four feet by the turn of the century, with notable rising by the year 2050.  His agency is devoting most of its time towards figuring out ways that Bay Area cities can adapt.

“Sometime between 2050 and 2100 the Bay is going to rise by two to four feet – two to four feet!,” Goldzband said. “We are trying to figure out how to become more resilient and adapt to the inevitable.”

The Port of Oakland and other quasi-government agencies as well as consultants such as Urban Resilience Strategies are also working on developing ways for adapting and lowering risks.