Solar Industry Jump-Starts a Revival in California
DIANE CARDWELL | New York Times | FEB. 25, 2014 | link
OAKLAND, Calif. — Back in 2009, when Danny Kennedy was looking for office space for the fast-growing solar services company he had co-founded, his venture capital investors recommended setting up shop in one of the “Twitterville kinds of areas” south of Market Street in San Francisco.
There, social media and peer-to-peer pioneers like Foursquare, Yelp, Airbnb and, indeed, Twitter had created a technology zone where innovative ideas could fly free and cross-pollinate among young workers meeting casually over food and drink.
Instead — after looking at buildings he deemed “foggy and frumpy and cold and wet,” not to mention expensive — Mr. Kennedy ended up in an airy loft across the bay here at Jack London Square. In just four years, the company, Sungevity, has grown to 300 employees from 55 in its 11,000-square-foot space overlooking the Oakland Estuary, helping jump-start the area’s stalled revitalization.
Taking things a step further, Mr. Kennedy, a former environmental advocate, has developed an incubator-accelerator program, the SfunCube, to attract and nurture other solar start-ups.
“The whole point of the SfunCube is to bring in a whole bunch of solar companies, populate the whole square with a bunch of solar professionals and turn it into, like, a solar campus,” he said.
“If we succeed in our task,” he added, “we’ll have thousands of solar industry workers here — they’ll want to walk to work or cycle. They’ll become the population that helps make that happen. The whole thing will be this nice, synergistic sort of lift-all-boats kind of deal.”
The effects of a growing solar cluster on Jack London Square are already visible in the crowds of workers grabbing a bite at restaurants like Bocanova, a beer at the sharply slope-floored Heinold’s First and Last Chance, or a Gibraltar at the Blue Bottle coffee roasters up the street. But those developments are merely ancillary to a broader vision, Mr. Kennedy said.