Urban Planning Today: Perception vs. Reality When the planning profession was still nascent in the 1950’s, well defined social needs and the desire to improve poor living conditions were the dominant basis for policy and regulation. By the time the 1970’s and 80’s...
A Smarter Greener San Leandro: Committing to a Clean Energy Future with a Community-Powered Microgrid
The United States’ global leadership and commitment to the accords that emerged from the COP21 Paris Climate Conference mark the dawn of a new era for city-scale clean energy innovation. Over the course of the last three years, the City of San Leandro, California, has been quietly staking its claim as one the smartest and greenest up-and-coming cities in the world, and it shows no signs of relenting in 2016. In 2013, the City first made waves in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco regional area by installing an 11 mile fiber optic data loop as part of a transformative public-private partnership (P3) agreement between the City and Dr. Patrick Kennedy, CEO and Founder of OSI Soft. OSI Soft is a homegrown community corporate leader that focuses on business-to-business big data analysis software, working with major utility providers and corporations like Microsoft, Cisco, and ESRI. Under this P3, LIT San Leandro was launched, a 10 gbps fiber optic network that provides San Leandro’s commercial, industrial, educational, and non-profit communities with critical data infrastructure and access to the fastest commercially available internet service in the United States. This P3 also created and funded a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) position within the City Manager’s office. Debbie Acosta, an experienced real estate and municipal economic development specialist from neighboring Oakland, was selected for the CIO position. She wasted no time in positioning the City as a regional player in developing and executing strategies designed to maximize the potential of the fiber P3 to dramatically alter the local economic landscape, and pursuing the goals established by the City Council to develop San Leandro as a center for innovation. Since then, the City has not looked back.
In 2015, under the leadership of the City Manager, Chris Zapata, the City worked with local business and property owners to:
- Complete the work begun by Community Development staff in 2012, successfully securing $2.1 million in matching grant funding from the S. Department of Commerce to expand the reach of the fiber network to almost 20 miles. To date, over 200 businesses and 3 million building square feet are already connected to Lit San Leandro;
- Connect all 17 San Leandro Unified School District sites to a dedicated, synchronous 10 gbps Internet connection via strands of fiber donated by the City of San Leandro, acquired through the 2011 License Agreement with San Leandro Dark Fiber/Lit San Leandro. This project was developed through a P3 that included the City of San Leandro, San Leandro Unified School District, and Dr. Patrick Kennedy of OSI Soft. Construction is scheduled to be complete in April 2016;
- Launch the Founders Circle initiative, bringing together the City’s top corporate citizens and executives to identify priorities and next steps for growing local labor talent and improving energy systems;
- Establish the City of San Leandro as a hub for advanced and additive manufacturing, resulting in creation of the Bay Area Advanced Manufacturing hub (BAAM), the largest 3D printing hub under one roof in the world, as a key component in the transformation of the Westgate Shopping Center into “The Gate”, an emerging innovation ecosystem of technology and creativity;
- Partner with Westlake Urban Development and the Chamber of Commerce to host the TRANSFORMATION event at the partially completed San Leandro Tech Campus (SLTC);
- Have San Leandro elected officials participate in the Alameda County steering committee for implementation of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) for county-wide sourcing of renewable energy;
- Extend and improve the LINKS Shuttle service, to connect more areas of the City with transit and support the growth of synergies between real estate and economic development initiatives;
- Expand the City’s image as a civic innovation thought leader, with their CIO participating as a keynote speaker and featured expert at numerous national energy, climate, and sustainability events (including VERGE, California Public Utilities Commission Hearings, the Urban Land Institute, and The Cleantech Open);
- Begin to explore the creation of a new P3 with Olidata Smart Cities and other potential partners, including OSI Soft, for the installation and operation of a city-scale, distributed renewable energy microgrid.
Olidata Smart Cities is a market maker and technology provider that helps create smarter, more valuable cities by optimizing the three pillars of a community: People, Places and Things. The company’s core technologies leverage smart data, local assets such as microgrids, and an innovative and secure IoT protocol, making smart city development a reality. Through their ZipPowertm platform and program, Olidata dramatically improves citywide energy value and cost-effectiveness while helping achieve city goals related to economics, innovation, climate action plans, carbon emission reductions, grid resilience, and energy security.
In 2015, working with ENEL, Olidata successful designed, installed, and operated the microgrid for the Milan Expo, effectively demonstrating a functioning prototype for a community with a population of up to 100,000 people. Demonstrating their commitment to investing in the future of San Leandro, Olidata’s top officers, CEO Alberto Colombo and Executive Director Felipe Cano, have relocated to the Bay Area and assembled a core leadership team that includes locally experienced micro grid specialists such as Greg Thomson and David Cohen. Partnering with ENEL, Olidata has secured a tentative commitment for a first phase installation of an islandable microgrid on the SLTC tech campus, to be completed in the summer of 2016. This high-profile location is strategically situated to support a broader district-scale Transit Oriented Development (TOD) initiative that includes the neighboring San Leandro BART station and the nearby downtown business improvement project area. The SLTC site will also be home to sculptor Marco Cochrane’s Truth is Beauty, a 55’ tall stainless steel mesh figure illuminated by 3,000 individually programmable LEDs. Located immediately adjacent to the raised BART passenger platform, the sculpture will act as a beacon and gateway to light the way for the bright future of the district, while also reminding onlookers of the women’s safety and global empowerment agenda that drives the artist’s work.
Along with securing a firm foothold in a part of the City that is poised to become a laboratory of art, technology, business development, and enlightened TOD planning, Olidata is also implementing an ambitious strategy to establish a retail base of operations in the heart of the existing downtown, where they will expand their local customer base and offer the training and products needed to support this kind of city-wide grid transformation. The retail center will offer opportunities for energy tech startups to access business acceleration services, expanding the mission of San Leandro’s own Zero Net Energy Center, which offers free training and support to local electricians, helping to jumpstart the small businesses that will help Bay Area communities respond to the rapidly expanding demand for the design and installation of advanced building-scale renewable energy generation systems. The City and Olidata are planning to expand the microgrid into other parts of the city with a particular focus on the vast acreage of underutilized rooftop and parking lot space in the City’s commercial and industrial district.
The City’s expanding notoriety as a city-scale laboratory for community art installations, civic policy, and economic development innovation is attracting more and more attention from investors, entrepreneurs, and young families. Olidata’s “ZipPower San Leandro” project will help integrate and expand the City’s progressive approach to new technology development, education and training initiatives, small business incentives, and the expansion and support of creative culture elements like civic art, food, and entertainment venues that are already improving the lifestyle options offered to local workers and community members. 2016 promises to be another dynamic period of growth for San Leandro’s rapidly evolving innovation ecosystem. The Olidata ZipPower microgrid project is poised to help the City lay the groundwork for continued advancements in a broad range of community engagement and civic infrastructure initiatives that will push San Leandro to the forefront of the Green and Smart Cities movement for years to come.
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