Cutting Through the Red Tape

Green Test Bed Ladies

April 10, 2012

by Shaibya Dalal (SF2012)

In May 2011, City Hall Fellows alum Whitney Ramos blogged about San Francisco’s upcoming 2011 Updated Electricity Resource Plan (ERP), which consists of multiple strategies to achieve the City’s zero-greenhouse gas (GHG) electricity goal by 2030. When I began my fellowship at the SFPUC’s Power Enterprise in August 2011, my supervisor handed me a thick copy of this ERP and informed me that I would be spending a large chunk of my time helping with its implementation.

This was somewhat daunting. Armed with very little understanding of the City’s energy and environmental policies, I made myself comfortable in my new cubicle and gleefully began highlighting through the ERP. Recommendation #3 caught my eye: it addresses the concept of a “Green Test Bed” to promote and encourage the deployment of new clean energy technologies in San Francisco as well as to attract green energy firms to locate within the City.

A Green Test Bed would not only aid the City’s GHG-reduction goals, but also bolster the local clean technology sector, support future job creation, and demonstrate the City’s dedication to emerging technologies. Furthermore, the SFPUC and the City have been inundated with testing offers. From electric pick-up trucks and ultra-thin solar panels to fuel cells and hybrid streetlights, clean technology developers are constantly knocking on San Francisco’s door in order to overcome the “valley of death”—the phase after controlled laboratory testing and before commercial viability. Emerging technologies need real-world testing to gather operational data and strengthen the prospect of commercialization. The lack of a structured application process and robust screening criteria makes it challenging and extremely time-consuming for the City to separate promising innovations and experiments from Uncle Dexter’s basement laboratory.

The ERP skimmed over the impetus and offered some initial ideas for Green Test Bed sites—this seemed like an ideal candidate for a CHF small-team project! With assistance from my fellow Fellows Carla Hansen and Janice Levy, I took lead on shaping the definition of such a program and developing a framework for its creation. We began by evaluating testing efforts already undertaken by San Francisco. Equipped with the knowledge of common barriers and lessons learned, we interviewed program coordinators associated with Green Test Bed-like endeavors in various jurisdictions across the U.S., and analyzed best practices from our case studies to provide specific policy recommendations.

After approximately five months, numerous discussions with SFPUC staff, and endless editing, the GTB (Green Test Bed) Ladies finished. Our 42-page final report, in addition to detailing ten case studies, provides the SFPUC/City with:

1)      A thorough application/selection process, including technology screening criteria related to the potential for success, energy and cost savings projections, the ease of installation, and any positive or negative economic impacts on the City.

2)      A phased-in program structure, which takes the City from a small-scale pilot program to an expanded rollout, with the appropriate funding and organizational elements.

3)      A step-by-step road map to complete implementation, from planning to the installation of the first set of pilot/demonstration projects, within 14 months.

Our report was very well received by upper management in the SFPUC, including General Manager Ed Harrington. The Power Enterprise will soon begin preparing for the launch of a Green Test Bed program, based on the recommendations we provided. The GTB Ladies will be involved as much as possible—as Carla likes to say, our baby graduated from high school and is now making its way through college.

Our case studies made one trend clear—nationwide, there is a growing interest in emerging clean technologies, and the growing desire to help bridge the gap between laboratory and marketplace. Achievement of San Francisco’s ambitious long-term goal of a GHG-free electric system by 2030 will require the advancement of renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies not yet adopted for application within the City, and implementation of a Green Test Bed program is the ideal near-term start toward this vision.


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