Why Boston’s Cleantech Sector Is Giving the City & State Great Return on Investment
For the second time in a row, Boston was ranked the most energy-efficient city in the United States by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
Boston has thrived in creating an energy-efficient hub thanks to a commitment to sustainability-focused policy and community outreach, as initiatives such as the Building Energy and Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance, Greenovate Boston and Renew Boston Solarize have helped the city cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels.
Policy around energy efficiency has also ensured that the city will be able to make continued advancements, because it’s supporting innovation coming from the clean technology sector.
“Policy helps set market signals, create conditions for progress and frameworks, and parameters for businesses to operate,” said Mark Vasu, executive vice president at Greentown Labs. “But, ultimately, it’s the clean technologies that are developed and the businesses that respond by developing and selling those products that solve the problems. The two do go hand in hand, and where you see good progress in clean technology, you often see a policy-supportive state.”
Greentown Labs started as a four-member startup incubator in Boston’s Innovation District in 2011. Since the very beginning, the program had the support of Boston policymakers such as Mayor Thomas Menino, who was in attendance at the lab’s grand opening.
Continued support from the city of Boston, city of Somerville, state agencies such as Mass Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and MassDevelopment, and corporate sponsors such as Autodesk and EnerNOC have allowed Greentown to flourish over the past four-and-a-half years.
Greentown is currently home to nearly 50 clean technology companies, and just last month announced plans for an $11M expansion that will allow it to accommodate 100 startups. Part of the $11M it will take to increase Greentown’s operations will come from a $1.5M loan from MassCEC and a $500,000 loan from the city of Somerville.
The city and state’s support of Greentown has paid off handsomely, as the cleantech sector has risen as a viable source of economic development. MassCEC’sannual survey reported cleantech is responsible for 100,000-plus jobs.
That number will continue to grow as Greentown alumni companies set up facilities for manufacturing in the state. According to Vasu, companies such asBevi, RailPod and Silverside Detectors are already setting up shop in three thousand to 10,000-square-foot facilities while adding jobs, building their teams and expanding in the marketplace.
Investment in Greentown Labs has also ensured that advancements in building efficiency, retrofits, sustainability and use of alternative energy continues.
Here are some examples of the innovations and technologies coming out of Greentown:
Alumni company Save Energy Systems provides businesses with a cost-effective and energy-efficient solution for intelligent control of multiple HVAC systems in order to reduce energy use.
Current member Building Envelope Materials is developing an energy retrofit system for commercial and residential buildings that will reduce building energy use by 30 to 50 percent.
The SunTracer from Greentown member Avalanche Energy is a solar thermal collector that generates hot water for residences and businesses, reducing energy use and costs.
Embue, a Greentown Alumni company, makes apartment building operations more efficient, comfortable and cost-effective with its cloud-connected platform that introduces the ability to manage and control smart device equipment remotely.
So many of these cleantech developments will have a positive impact on the city and state because Greentown Labs is a proving ground allowing startups to build their prototypes and validate its necessity with early adopters.
And there will be no shortage of future developments thanks to Greentown’s expansion. Vasu states that the extension showcases the strength of Boston’s cleantech sector and furthers the city as a place where startups across the globe want to establish roots.
“This bigger space will allow us to attract companies from outside the area to this area, and that will be very beneficial from an economic standpoint,” Vasu said. “We’re already starting to see companies finding us from Milwaukee, Washington D.C., or places in the South. They’re starting to recognize that Boston is where you want to be if you want to be working in cleantech.”
He further explained that companies from Spain and parts of Asia looking to set up U.S. properties view Boston as the go-to destination.
With a broader infusion of talent bringing ideas for cleantech developments to Boston, we can expect to see further advancements in the sector.
“Cleantech is more than wind and solar. We’re working in a broad range of categories that include storage and building efficiency, but there are future opportunities around advanced materials and water.” Vasu explained. “We’ve seen Internet of Things applications continue to be strong and there’s potentially a next wave around ‘clean web,’ which entails more software-based energy applications that combine hardware. It creates easier ways to access information that can inform and create better decision making to reduce energy use.”
Current Greentown member company Tank Utility is part of that “next wave of clean web,” as it’s created desktop and mobile applications to allow businesses and residences to monitor propane levels remotely in order to increase efficiency.
Tank Utility is also just another one of the many Boston-based cleantech companies to benefit from state support. In June, the early-stage startup was awarded a $40,000 Catalyst grant from MassCEC.
Upon receiving the grant, Tank Utility CEO Amos Epstein said, “We’re lucky to be located in one of the most supportive communities for cleantech innovation. We are thrilled that MassCEC shares our vision for helping consumers understand their energy usage and form better relationships with their energy providers.”
With the city and state support, it’s easy to forecast Boston’s cleantech sector keeping the city at the top of the list when it comes to ranking the most energy-efficient metros.