Conservation is a big deal in California. While per capital energy usage has climbed approximately 50 percent from 1975 to 2005, according to presentations by former California Energy Commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld, California managed to keep the growth of energy consumption at about 2 percent per capita over the same period -- largely by requiring aggressive energy conservation measures.

As part of that overall conservation push, San Diego Gas & Electric convened its fifth annual SDG&E Energy Showcase to recognize their customers' biggest success stories at reducing energy waste. For example, by installing LED lighting, sophisticated refrigeration controls, and taking other conservation measures, Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (Nasdaq: LIFE) cut its electricity consumption by 5,200,000 kilowatt hours a year -- or about 28 percent -- and estimates it will save about $4 million in reduced energy costs over five years. And it won't take forever to recoup its upfront investment in energy savings. The company, which provides laboratory equipment and supplies for biotech labs, also got $724,526 in rebates and incentives from SDG&E to do the energy efficiency work.

As part of its showcase, SDG&E also holds an exhibition for the companies that provide the products and services that help SDG&E customers reduce their energy costs.

"We want to make sure [energy conservation successes] are visible to our customers," says Mark Gaines, director of energy efficiency and demand-response programs at SDG&E, one of two utilities that are owned and operated (and generate about half the revenue) by San Diego-based Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE). Gaines says SDG&E doesn't certify the individual companies that provide energy efficiency services. Rather, he says, "We certify the technology, so we have a list of technologies that are available for rebates."

More than 70 companies registered as exhibitors, and there was a strong showing by companies that specialize in lighting, hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment -- as well as HVAC monitoring and control technologies. I nevertheless found a few local startups under the  big tent of the San Diego Convention Center that are developing innovative technologies:

-- Flux Power, based in Vista, CA, has developed energy management technology for use with advanced lithium batteries. The company, which was started late last summer by Aptera Motors co-founder Chris Anthony, has been self-funded so far, according to Joseph Gottlieb, the chief technology officer. Gottlieb says technology for monitoring, managing, and charging lithium batteries is crucial because such batteries are susceptible to damage by drawing too much power from the cell -- as well as excessive recharging.

-- Empower Electronics, based in San Diego, has developed digital and programmable lighting ballasts (transformers used to step up voltage so as to excite gases in fluorescent, metal halide and sodium vapor lamps), primarily for high intensity outdoor lighting. The privately held company's ballasts, which can be easily substituted in municipal street lights, car dealership lighting, and big box retailers' overhead lighting, can increase energy efficiency by 60 percent and reduce maintenance costs by 50 percent.

-- InControl Technology, based in El Cajon, CA, has developed a network appliance for monitoring and controlling energy use within an enterprise IT network. CEO Gary Paquette, who founded the company in 2002 with Ross Bellinger and Ben McCullom (all three had worked previously at San Diego's Peregrine Systems), tells me the technology can scan a network and inventory every network-attached device (laptop, desktop, server, switch, router, hub, etc.). The system also can identify which devices are using the most energy, enabling system managers to optimize the energy efficiency of their enterprise networks.


Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at

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