By Jose Beceiro, Director of Clean Energy Initiatives, Austin Chamber of Commerce
As one of the first smart-grid-powered communities, a revolutionary technology incubator, and the host of a conference promoting clean energy investment; Austin, TX has proven itself a leader in the clean technology sector, and the region is poised to continue making significant strides in building a strong clean energy industry in 2013. Through economic development efforts by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and public and private investments, Austin has established itself as an impressive center for clean technology headquarters, R&D, and manufacturing operations, with over 200 existing clean technology companies that employ 20,000 people.
Expansion of the clean technology industry continues to be successful through execution of the existing strategy of merging the energy economy with other areas of Austin’s technology expertise in software, computers, and semi-conductors to assist in producing new, innovative clean tech companies that prove-out and deploy their technologies at a far-reaching scale.
In 2012, Austin was named one of the top 10 best performing metros in the U.S. Metro Clean Tech Index and hosted the 2nd annual SXSW Eco conference, which grew to 2,500 attendees and included the SXSW Eco Startup Showcase that offered early stage startups the opportunity to present their business plans to venture capital and angel investors. To accommodate the growing interest and participation in SXSW Eco, the conference will be moving to the Austin Convention Center for its 3rd annual conference in October 2013.
As many very well know, the University of Texas is a powerful driver for Austin’s clean technology industry, as a number of its research programs focus on advanced battery research, energy-efficiency technology and smart grid technology, and solar and wind technologies. These programs consistently produce new innovations and initiatives powering Austin as a driver for the future of clean energy. With help from initiatives like the University’s Clean Energy Incubator, a clean energy startup resource provider, entrepreneurs are migrating to Austin, taking these technologies out of the university labs and spinning them out into new startup companies.
Clean energy in Austin has become a well-oiled engine fueled by companies that design some of the most innovative clean technologies in the region, including:
- HelioVolt: Designer and manufacturer of thin film solar modules combining high–efficiency with low–cost manufacturing and outstanding energy production.
- Illumintex: Developer of LED lighting technology for the general lighting market, including residential and commercial uses.
- Joule Unlimited: Producer of alternative energy technologies.
- Xtreme Power: Designer, engineer, manufacturer, and operator of integrated energy storage and power management systems.
- Cielo Wind Power: Provider of complete solutions in the renewable energy sector.
- SunPower: Supplier of residential, commercial and power plant solar solutions.
- Renewable Energy Systems: Designer and installer of renewable energy systems using solar, wind, and hybrid systems.
Businesses are not the only contributors to the region’s clean energy engine. Ranked as one of the top green utilities in the nation for its Green Choice renewable power program for seven consecutive years, Austin’s municipal utility, Austin Energy, is considered to be one of the nation’s most progressive and greenest electric utilities by NREL. This progressive nature has propelled Austin Energy’s solar incentive programs to become the largest in the State of Texas with 40 megawatts of solar installed, 50 solar companies, and over 600 people employed.
Clean energy in Austin is a community effort primarily seen via one of the first smart grid communities and test models for advanced technology, the Pecan Street, Inc.’s smart grid demonstration project. This literal and figurative community effort is the product of the collaboration between Austin Energy and Austin municipal entities to develop a smart grid–powered community and business model for utilities. The goal of this model being to seamlessly integrate distributed solar and wind power, energy storage, and electric vehicles into homes and communities of the future.
In 2013, Pecan Street will launch the Pike Powers Commercialization Lab, a facility that will house early-stage clean tech companies. The lab will provide access to high-cost equipment and allow them to cross into commercialization that would be out of reach financially without this capital. Pecan Street’s revolutionary 2012 accomplishments included collaborations with major corporations to test some of the most essential day-to-day consumer products powered purely by clean energy. These 2012 partnerships included:
- A Collaboration with GM to test how the Chevy Volt interacts with homes and renewable energy systems in the Mueller Development;
- Partnerships with LG, Dell, Intel, Sony, Whirlpool, among others to test consumer products on a smart grid platform; and
- Expansion of its smart grid demonstration to 600 area homes.
Austin sees the potential for clean energy to become one of the main drivers for the United States’ economic future. This potential for clean energy to become an economic driver coupled with the country’s tremendous energy challenges places Austin, TX in a unique position to lead the charge in identifying new technologies, make energy use more efficient, while providing new power and new solutions that are sustainable; all while creating an incredible amount of job growth in the state of Texas.