News

City looks to become testbed for new technologies

City Council committee recommends a new program for testing emerging technologies

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.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Our of our minds !!!
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:17 am

Ya right.
How about under-grounding our power lines first.
We need occupy Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:26 am

A noble cause, no doubt. But why host this initiative in what is apparently the most corrupt organization in city government?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:53 am

Methinks this is going to cost utilities customers a lot of money.


Like this comment
Posted by Feh!
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 30, 2011 at 11:46 am

The Utility Dept. needs to do its job cost-effectively; it's not supposed to be a showcase for anything, including its managers' egos.

Let for-profit companies showcase and test new things, not city government when business4es are closing and consumers are hurting.

How about using some of that surplus to cut our absurdly high rates?


Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 30, 2011 at 11:52 am

This kind of thing should show a solid ROI projection before they start paying consultants. Spending money for enhancing a city's reputation seems like a foolish goal.


Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 30, 2011 at 12:22 pm

rem is a registered user.

AS LONG AS ITT DOES NOT COST US $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$..

But then again this is Palo Alto. Give us money and we will look the OTHER WAY????


Like this comment
Posted by Employee
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

This city is so far behind in tech world. We were doing paper timecards up until the early 2000's.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How come no smart meters yet?


Like this comment
Posted by Misplaced Priorities
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Not a single positive comment so far!!

And watch it - still the City of Palo Alto is going to do what it wants to do. We have really no control over it.

Democracy does not work any more - the govt sucks the money and absolutely does not listen to the people.

Isn't this what Occupy is all about.


Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Yet another tax on our utilities bills. So fun to "bolster the city's already sizable reputation for high-tech innovation", so boring balancing the budget and keeping utility bills from going up >10%/year.


Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm

The utilities department is notoriously incompetent at technology. Most likely they will find the next Enron or Solyndra.


Like this comment
Posted by Carlito waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Consultants for sure love the Palo Alto bureaucrats. Obviously the Utilities Department has enough disposable funds, after they raised our water, electricity, refuse and gas fees.


Like this comment
Posted by Charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Another playing with other people's money episode!


Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2011 at 8:46 am

"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 ..."

Dark fiber is technical jargon for unused fiber. Why does councilman Pat Burt think spending money on useless things is a sign of leadership?

Egotistical Palo Alto is an easy mark for municipal con artists. Professor Harold Hill, you've done it again.


Like this comment
Posted by Debra Katz
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I am the Utilities Communications Manager and would like to address several of the comments above for readers who might want a more complete picture.

“Methinks this is going to cost utilities customers a lot of money.”

Not true. At each step of the test bed program approval process---which includes review by the UAC, Policy and Services Committee, and the upcoming final City Council determination---careful consideration is being given to costs. Because the initial launch for the test bed concept involves a small scale pilot project, and because it is anticipated that there will be either immediate or long-term benefits from the effort, the Utilities portion of the test bed project costs is minor and will in no way increase rates.

In fact, what is great about the test bed concept is it leverages a small amount of funds into big projects that can deliver substantial cost savings and improved efficiencies. That’s an economic win for all utilities customers.

” How about using some of that surplus to cut our absurdly high rates?”

First of all, these pilot test bed funds are not significant enough to impact utilities rates.

But even more importantly, our customer-owners should realize that Palo Alto’s electric rates, far from being absurdly high, are actually significantly lower than those of surrounding communities.
In the case of water and gas, where our rates are higher than some other communities, the reasons are clear and compelling.

Water rates were raised to pay for system improvements both by our supplier (San Francisco) and here in Palo Alto---so while it is true that our water rates are higher than some other communities, those areas do not get high-quality Hetch-Hetchy water and/or do not have a secure back-up supply system in case of earthquake or other emergency. Palo Alto’s decision to secure its safe, high-quality water supply will serve us well for generations to come.

Palo Alto’s higher gas rates reflect the fact that we have one of the most aggressive safety, leak detection and gas pipeline upgrade and replacement programs in the country. With all the recent news about other utilities’ problems with gas pipelines, most residents would likely agree that spending more to ensure the long-term integrity of our gas system has been a wise investment.

“Dark fiber is technical jargon for unused fiber.”

Dark Fiber is indeed a technical term which refers specifically to the fact that the provider of the fiber cable does not “light” the cable. Basically, “lighting the cable” means attaching equipment, including an optical laser, at either end in order to transmit data over the fiber. Dark Fiber is fiber provided without the equipment and laser (this is the user’s responsibility) and is therefore “dark”.

Dark Fiber is a highly sought after telecommunications service in the Palo Alto business community and is the choice of virtually all of the major corporations in Palo Alto for its security and reliability. The City’s Fiber Utility has unused dark fiber, as all network providers have inventory, but this is a well used service that has proven to be a very rewarding investment for our rate payers.

“How come no smart meters yet?”

The City conducted an extensive study which determined that smart meters do not make economic sense for Palo Alto right now. We are therefore monitoring both the evolution of the technology and the lessons learned from its implementation elsewhere so that if and when it becomes the right move for Palo Alto, we will be ready.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2011 at 10:03 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Debra, your comment about Smart Meters is consistent with an equally stupid comment from the previous utility director. While there may not now be a direct benefit today, Palo Alto could in the future contract for power with a peaking rate and cheaper base rate power. Since peak power costs from two to ten times as much as base rate power, Smart Meters would enable us to establish variable rates. At any rate, Smart Meters are required by law soon. Most of PG&E is now Smart Metered. Only the ignorant are holding out.


Like this comment
Posted by Questioning
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 2, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Grandstanding Palo Alto as a platform for technology and managers to message "progressive" to developers..hmm sounds like a plan, but how well is this thought out?

Somehow I seem to remember another (past) plan and this one was to espouse sucession planning for cities and a city manager with great ideas (though not actually implemented in our city)and how that city manager was corraled back in to do his job (which we paid for).
Can we for once learn from the past here?

To the Policy and Services Committee:
What are the restrictions on public private individual participation by city employees...Remember a prior city manager building his career on speaking engagements while a city manager?

There needs to be very clear definitions here for how public money is used. Is there or has there been any real policy oversight for this process of expansion?

Addressed to UTC:
Debra says there is limited time applied...really? how is it with increased work loads and less employees city employees can devote themselves to expansion and maintain regular work assignments?

For example:
The vague line of real estate development and city resources should be example enough for questions to be raised. How permeable is that boundary line?

With a city council and city management that knows very little about utilities...These future projects should be well thought through for the potential for misuse of roles by employees and elected officials.

What is to protect the city from employees using this for their own personal gain?

The idea of using Palo Alto to showcase technologies? Like SAP? Like the city web site? The aesthetic of the development at Charleston and El Camino... How often do we jump the line before things are really thought out?

Grandstanding Palo Alto as a platform for technology and managers to message that Palo Alto is "progressive" to developers and business to come here...hmm sounds like a plan, but how well is this thought out?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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