Looking to bolster the city's already sizable reputation for high-tech innovation, Palo Alto officials on Tuesday recommended creating a new program in the Utilities Department that would focus on testing emerging technologies.
The program, which the City Council's Policy and Services Committee unanimously approved Tuesday night, targets technology companies who are looking for a place to test their products. Jonathan Foster, chair of the city's Utilities Advisory Commission, said many of these companies see Palo Alto, which has its own utilities department, as the perfect place for such demonstrations.
The Emerging Technology Demonstration Program provides funding for consultants to evaluate potential projects and their impacts and streamlines the process for reviewing proposals for demonstration projects. According to a report from Debra Lloyd, a manager in the Utilities Department, these technologies can be in such areas as water and energy efficiency and conservation and renewable-energy generation. The $200,000 program would be funded from gas, water and electric funds in the Utilities Department.
"The purpose of the Program is to support the deployment of innovative ideas, particularly from the local business community, provide recognition to the City as an innovation leader, and further enhance Palo Alto's stature as a technology and innovation hub in Silicon Valley," Lloyd wrote.
Foster said he believes the program would both help the companies working on cutting-edge products and enable the city to benefit from the latest technology. The city could, for example, allow a company to test technology that promotes home-energy savings. If this technology proves effective for local customers, the city would be able to deploy it on a vaster scale.
"It would focus on things with the best chance of success and that can offer the best benefits to Palo Alto," Foster said.
Palo Alto's utilities officials are already working with Stanford experts and private companies on several energy-efficiency projects, including a demand-response program that gives commercial customers real-time information about their energy use (a program that functions much like smart meters but without the actual meters) and a program that sends electric customers reports showing how their energy consumption compares to that of other customers.
Councilman Pat Burt cited other areas in which Palo Alto has taken a leadership role, including the construction of the city's dark-fiber ring in the early 1990s and the city's early and aggressive efforts to draw more energy from renewable sources.
While the new program aims to further raise Palo Alto's clout as the center of innovation, council members also expect it to bring the city and its customers tangible savings or rewards. Councilman Larry Klein said one criterion that the city should use in evaluating proposals is the company's willingness to offer "financial or other benefits to the city." Councilman Pat Burt agreed that a payment or an "in-kind" service should be a factor in the evaluation process, though not the only factor.
Chair Gail Price also said charging a fee would be appropriate. The fee should, at a minimum, cover the cost of staff, she said.
The committee recommended that the full council approve the new program. The Utilities Advisory Commission reviewed the program in October and also voted unanimously to support it.