San Diego’s Cleantech Cluster Looks to Canada & Other International Partners for Collaboration

In June, 2007, a study commissioned by the City of San Diego and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. found 148 cleantech companies in San Diego County.

The study encouraged San Diego business leaders in establishing Cleantech San Diego as a way to help stimulate the emerging cluster (and to encourage adoption of renewable energy and other clean technologies)—and the nonprofit trade group now boasts 758 member companies. Not all of those are cleantech companies, of course, but it still represents a five-fold increase in San Diego’s cleantech base.

The group’s luster was burnished a bit more in February, when Shawn Lesser of Atlanta’s Sustainable World Capital named Cleantech San Diego to a top 10 list of cleantech cluster organizations for 2010. Lesser, who raises funds for green private equity firms and cleantech companies, proclaimed San Diego as the North American headquarters for another recent endeavor, the Global CleanTech Cluster Association. He says the association embodies a collaborative effort among cleantech clusters in more than 20 regions around the world.

All of this formed the backdrop to an International Cleantech Showcase that drew an estimated 250 people to the University of San Diego earlier this week. The showcase included presentations and a panel discussion comprising cleantech company executives from Australia, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland.

“What’s exciting about this international summit is that we’re doing it together,” says Jim Waring, a co-founder and board chairman of Cleantech San Diego (and a San Diego Xconomist). “I’m excited because I see that we’re turning the corner and we’re not going to be provincial.”

Even if California could eliminate 100 percent of its carbon emissions, Waring contends it won’t have much impact on lowering total greenhouse gases around the world. But he was enthusiastic about the collective impact California and San Diego could have by joining with other countries and other cleantech clusters. “We’re talking about a momentum that is way bigger than just us,” Waring says.

Canadian diplomat David Fransen, who was appointed Consul General in Los Angeles two years ago, provided an example of how such collaborations are coming together among cleantech proponents in San Diego and Canada.

“San Diego already has demonstrated its ability to focus in on something and to grow dramatically from the years when San Diego was focused primarily on military and defense to a very diverse economy,” Fransen says. “Biotechnology, IT, communications, aerospace, and cleantech are all going on here.”

Fransen highlighted a number of Canadian-San Diego initiatives, including:

—The Toronto Stock Exchange has been extremely active in the San Diego market, and is encouraging cleantech companies to go public on the Toronto exchange by emphasizing its expertise in cleantech financing and related issues. The TSX has held cleantech roadshows in San Diego for the last 3 years.

—Canadian cleantech and renewable energy companies such as Morgan Solar, H2O Innovation, and Capital Power have established subsidiaries in San Diego, at least partly to get access to employees in this area with specialized skills.

—San Diego-based cleantech startups like EnerSysNet and ENRQI have established Canadian subsidiaries, at least partly to gain access to the $1.1 billion the Canadian government has allocated to its Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), which provides supplementary funding to cleantech startups that have secured other sources of funding.

—Established the Canada California Strategic Innovation Partnership to connect research scientists on both sides of the border in areas such as information technology, communications, cleantech, and life sciences. “CCSIP is essentially a catalyst to research relationships in areas that we think have commercializable technology potential,” Fransen says.

—The San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, a consortium of academic and industrial scientists working to commercialize algal biofuels and industrial algal biotechnologies met with Canada’s National Research Council, Institute for Marine Biology to explore possibilities of working together on algae research.

—-Seven Canadian companies developing cleantech and renewable energy technologies participated in the International Cleantech Showcase Tuesday evening at USD’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.

“Cleantech for us is just one element in a much broader thrust,” Fransen says, noting that California alone accounts for some $30 billion worth of trade in everything from apples and automobiles to semiconductors and zero-emission control equipment. “But it’s a very significant priority for me.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Karen Hutchens

    Excellent and very comprehensive article,

  • What a great program and example for other cities. San Diego just keeps getting better! If only housing were a little cheaper there, I’d move in a heart beat. Clean, beautiful city with perfect weather!