Visions of the Mobility System of the Future

Visions of the Mobility System of the Future

Our January 30th MeetUp explored all the innovations being tried in the region to improve our mobility options. We where hosted by Frontier Energy at the California Fuel Cell Partnership.  Every one of the 67 chairs was full and a standing crowd spilled out into the lobby of the Fuel Cell Partnership building on Industrial Boulevard in West Sacramento.  Little wonder. We had an all-star set of presenters for the night—West Sac Mayor Chris Cabaldon, SMUD CEO Arlen Orchard, Sacramento’s Chief Innovation Officer Louis Stewart, and Sac State Transportation Engineering Professor Ghazan Khan.  We started with Prof. Khan describing his autonomous vehicle project on campus, using the “Olli” shuttles from Local Motors in Arizona. It was a limited test, with the self-driving shuttles only used on-campus, off city streets. The real gain would come if the shuttles could be used to gather up students from remote parking lots or from light rail.  Then congestion on campus would be potentially significantly reduced. But one step at a time. Interestingly, one of the common comments of riders during the test was a desire for the shuttles to go faster. They were limited to 5-10 mph. Nothing changed human nature to get to class at the last minute—and look for shortcuts.

Next we turned to a panel discussion to explore what the mobility system in our region might look like in ten years—and most importantly what opportunities it may create for creative entrepreneurs.  The Mayor made a strong point about the shared-ride pilot project West Sac has had with VIA and RT since November 2017. He said the most intriguing result is how it improved mobility for residents who were off the regular RT routes and for whom Uber/Lyft were too expensive.  Riders are charged $2.50 each way in West Sac ($1.25 for seniors and disabled). Users can schedule a ride, get to a nearby pickup point and be dropped off near their destination. Users were able to cut the time to get to and from a grocery from an hour to minutes. One user said for the first time in years she was able to buy ice cream.  Before VIA it melted before she could get it home. She could exercise at a pool facility she otherwise could not enjoy. In that way, this modest addition to the mobility system has had a truly transformative effect on people’s lives. The VIA system was adopted in January 2020 by Sacramento in large parts of the city growing the service dramatically.

Does anyone have an idea how to do this better?  Anyone have an idea for an app that would make the dispatch of vehicles more efficient?

Arlen and Chris commented on challenges with how the charger network will evolve in the next decade.  Just doing “more of the same”—growing the public charger system from 1000 to 10,000 units is probably not practical logistically or economically.  Will there be more ultrafast DC chargers? Where will be the least problematic place to put them on the grid? What would the addition of on-site battery storage as a buffer to do increase the number of good sites?  How can data be analyzed to tell where on the grid will be the best place to have storage? How can ultra-fast chargers be installed without having a lot of negative consequences? Arlen also mentioned the push behind a new Mobility Center in the area, supported by SMUD, Sac State, GSAC and the city.  Good news for innovators—the plan is to have a $100 million mobility innovation fund to underwrite new companies here.

Louis talked about efforts to make Sacramento a city that would welcome a lot experimentation in mobility innovation.  Already RT is talking about electrifying its bus fleet and even managing electric vehicle fleets for others. Maybe we would have a “zone” where autonomous vehicles would be allowed.  He was also concerned about making the jump to new solutions too quickly, without looking at the consequences. He wanted innovation to be part of the city’s identity, emphasizing connectivity, shared data, more choices, and a focus not on technology itself but on how people’s needs are better met through innovation.  

We recorded the entire sessions and it is worth the time to view it all.  When it is available, we will send out a link.  

Our next MeetUp is February 27 and will have a focus on storage.  Be looking for our announcement.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | Tobin, EY, Stoel Rives 

BlueTech Valley, PowerSoft.biz

College of Engineering & Computer Science at Sacramento State

ReCap of 2019

ReCap of 2019

With 2019 over I wanted to highlight some of what CleanStart did to further Sacramento as a clean tech hub. This past year was exciting for the clean tech community in the greater Sacramento area.  At CleanStart we were excited because we have been able to provide much need support to the community, helping grow our region with networking and education for clean tech entrepreneurs. We did our best to capture this excitement so you can share it.  

There is really too much to cover, but I compiled this shortlist about why 2019 was exciting:

We worked to connect with more of the community in the greater area by partnering with more groups, participating in more events, holding more classes, more networking events, connecting more people. We did all this while moving to our new home at Hacker Lab.

The year ended with big excitement for 2020 with CleanStart Partnering with New Energy Nexus to bring the CONNEX Investor Night to Sacramento.  Check out what the excitement is about:

In 2019 we counted 85 companies in the cluster representing 5,050 jobs and $3.1 billion in revenue. This is a big gain over 2015, which showed 4,150 jobs and $1.54 billion in revenue. We moved forward as a region towards CleanStart’s goal of $5 Billion in revenue and 10,000 careers. From the SMUD Mobility Center to GreyRock Energy, to Sierra Energy we saw investment in clean tech. Startups started to make moves around storage with RePurpose and Spin.  Several local companies won CalSEED funding, including ZYD Energy, RAF Electronics, and  RePurpose. 

With all of this, we are excited for 2020 and want to make sure you connect with us.  If you want to learn more, contact us, sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on social media.

Follow us on Social Media to keep upto date!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas is the Executive Director of CleanStart. Thomas has a strong background in supporting small businesses, leadership, financial management and is proficient in working with nonprofits. He has a BS in Finance and a BA in Economics from California State University, Chico. Thomas has a passion for sustainability and a commitment to supporting non-profits in the region.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | Tobin, Moss Adams GreenbergTraurig

BlueTech Valley, PowerSoft.biz, Revrnt, Synbyo, Califronia Mobility Center

Building Energy Management—The Real World

Building Energy Management—The Real World

Thursday Oct. 24, we had a full house at Hacker Lab to hear three very interesting talks on building energy management in the real world vs. what we think is going on.  

 Kristin Heinemeier of Frontier Energy hit us with the reality that few of the fancy energy-saving HVAC systems installed over the past decades are being allowed to operate as they should.  The culprit? “Wire cutters”, as she put it. Building tenants or even the building operators at some point on most buildings become disenchanted with how the system is working and do something to defeat it.  No system in the world can stand up against someone with wire cutters to defeat it. She had pictures of equipment where someone had jammed something into the dampers supposed to bring in cool outside air when the temperature is right and then close when it’s hot to recirculate inside air.  In one photo, someone in fact used the air-damper control box, ripped off the wall, to jam open the dampers. Other examples were seeing systems totally unplugged, so no energy savings were being generated at all. Why? Because people did not know how to readjust the system properly to provide the comfort levels they wanted.  What happened to the operators trained by the installers when the systems were first put in? They work somewhere else now and did not train their replacements adequately. This creates a huge opportunity for Frontier to audit existing buildings, get the systems operating again, and deal with whatever the comfort issues were that led occupants to take things into their own hands.  

 Zach Denning took it one step further.  His company installs an autonomous AI-based virtual engineer (“Hank”) to learn the systems in the building, understand the comfort and other occupant requirements, and then tweak the existing systems to achieve those targets.  Zach confirmed that they often have to reconnect the installed systems on a building to get a useful starting point. But his idea is to let “Hank” do the tweaking, rather than depending on a rookie building engineer getting trained well.  Zach and his team can interface with almost any brand of system installed on a building and work with it. That’s an enormous savings over a building manager installing all new equipment, assuming the problem is that the existing equipment is defective.  Zach’s insight is that it is not the equipment but the humans “tweaking” the system in the wrong way. Hank takes that problem away. Usually the energy savings are 40+%. That’s a lot of money compared to the monthly fee for Hank, running as a SaaS platform. 

 Zach is getting good traction with customers and has recently raised a $250K round to keep up his momentum.  He is currently generating revenue.

 The third presentation of the evening was from Prof. Marcus Romani of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Sac State.  His talk was on advances in using solar to provide air conditioning in buildings, not through running an electric motor-driven vapor compression system (the kind most people have), but through using the sun’s heat directly to run an absorption cooling cycle.  The idea is not new, but recent advances are making it more economical. The principal advance is in the efficiency of the solar heating panels that drive the system. Absorption cooling is how most ice houses and refrigerators worked originally. It involves using heat to boil a chemical solution to drive off a certain ingredient, and then letting that ingredient re-dissolve in another part of the system, which creates cooling.  Early devices used ammonia in an aqueous solution. Modern devices use more complicated chemical stews to improve efficiency. Prof. Romani’s point is that buildings seeking zero net energy status but not having enough roof space to install PV panels to offset all electric use, may be able to eliminate all electric use for A/C by switching to absorption cooling. Solar thermal collectors can capture more of the sun’s energy than a PV panel.

 All three presentations captured the full attention of the crowd.  There is much more to discuss about startups targeting building energy management and we are sure to bring this topic back in future MeetUps.  

 Our next MeetUp is set for Thursday, December 5, at the Hacker Lab from 5:30-8:00 pm.  Save the date and look for the announcement of the speakers. This will be our last MeetUp for the year, so don’t miss it!

Thomas Hall, Executive Director, kicks off meetup.

Zach Denning introuduces us to “Hank”, an autonomous AI-based virtual engineer who learns the systems in the building.

Prof. Marcus Romani of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Sac State talks on advances in using solar to provide air conditioning in buildings.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | Tobin, EY, Stoel Rives, Greenberg Traurig LLP

BlueTech Valley, Buchalter, Moss Adams, PowerSoft.biz

College of Engineering & Computer Science at Sacramento State

Seniors’ Projects Displayed at Sac State Engineering and Computer Science Showcase

Seniors’ Projects Displayed at Sac State Engineering and Computer Science Showcase

On Friday May 10, about three dozen teams of students at Sac State showed off the projects they had been working on their entire senior year.  These projects are a graduation requirement so the students put in a lot of time on them.

Many of them were clean tech related and very interesting.  One team made an electric go-kart with a motor at each wheel and an interesting charging system.  One showed how to best integrate distributed generation into the power grid. Others were on flywheel storage, several kinds of wind turbines, optimizing low-head hydro, managing the “duck” curve on the grid, a campfire-powered thermoelectric generator, two-axis solar trackers, and many more.  It was great to see how engaged and enthusiastic the teams were. Lots of fun quizzing them. This event is held every May. The next time it comes around, you might want to drop by.

Here’s a slide show of the photos I took.  You have to zoom in to read the posters to get an idea of what they did.  Each team had to articulate the problem, how they solved it, and what the impact of their invention might be.  The best part of the photos is all those fresh faces, ready to go out and conquer the world. Kudos to Dean Lorenzo Smith and all his faculty not only for giving the students such an experience, but also for engaging the business community to sponsor many of these teams.  Well done!

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.


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