Cleantech Industry Booming in Carlsbad as the Future of Business Grows Greener

April 22, 2022

Business is growing greener in Carlsbad and around the world.

Businesses bought a record amount of clean energy in 2021. More than 137 corporations in 32 different countries bought 31.1 gigawatts of clean energy through power purchase agreements last year, up nearly 24% from the previous year’s record of 25.1 gigawatts, according to research firm BloombergNEF. ​​CNET reported one gigawatt is enough energy to power about 750,000 homes.

Aerial view of the Carlsbad coast. (Credit: Vince Fleming)

“Total signed volumes were equivalent to more than 10% of all the renewable energy capacity added globally last year, showing the impact corporate sustainability pledges are having on clean energy build,” BloombergNEF reported. 

The cleantech industry supports about 40,000 jobs and has an economic impact of $8.2 billion in San Diego County, according to Cleantech San Diego, a trade organization for the region’s cleantech industry.

The cleantech industry is growing in Carlsbad too, where dozens of companies provide hundreds of jobs, and the industry cluster is 4.66 times more concentrated than the national average.

The number of workers employed at cleantech companies in Carlsbad increased by 22.2% between 2018 and 2020, according to the 2022 City of Carlsbad Business Report. By 2019, the 48 cleantech companies in Carlsbad employed more than 872 people.

Innovative cleantech industry leaders in Carlsbad include GKN Hydrogen, which is part of GKN, a manufacturing conglomerate that operates in aerospace, driveline, powder metallurgy and land systems. The company was founded in 1759 and is headquartered in England.

GKN Hydrogen, launched in May 2021, is commercializing metal hydride hydrogen storage. The company’s products include complete hydrogen storage systems packaging an electrolyzer, hydrogen storage and a fuel cell in easy-to-deploy shipping containers for plug-and-play convenience.

GKN’s solutions “act like a battery,” said Clark Crawford, General Manager and Vice President of Business Development Hydrogen Americas for GKN Hydrogen. “That is a complete energy storage solution, where you put electricity in, and you get electricity out at some time later. We do that by storing green hydrogen.”

GKN Hydrogen is commercializing metal hydride hydrogen storage. (Courtesy of GKN)

These solutions compete with lithium-ion battery storage for stationary energy storage applications, Crawford said.

“We store green hydrogen in a very safe and compact way for applications that are taking electricity and storing it and returning it to electricity sometime later,” Crawford explained.

The company offers HY2MINI, a 10-foot containerized storage solution, as well as HY2MEDI, a 20-foot containerized storage solution.

 The company also offers HY2MEGA, which stores about 265 kilograms of hydrogen and is the largest metal hydride storage solution on the market and uses significantly less space than other forms of energy storage such as lithium-ion batteries.

These products are currently manufactured in Italy, Crawford said, but the company plans to bring the assembly and manufacturing of its products to the U.S.

Crawford is responsible for the development and execution of the hydrogen business plan for GKN Hydrogen for the Americas market, which includes the U.S. and Canada. He heads a team of nine based out of the Rutherford Road office of GKN, which also includes GKN Forecast 3D, a manufacturing and 3D printing services company.

“The overall customer base is here in California, with the decarbonization goals that the state and corporations have. That’s why we need to have a presence in California,” Crawford said. “With Carlsbad, it was very easy for us to get started, borrowing space from our sister division.”

Energy generation, storage and smart grid technologies are likely to see considerable investment and change as the state, the country and the world transitions to a low-carbon or decarbonized economy. This will have a direct impact on cleantech businesses such as GKN Hydrogen.

“In our case, it’s all about green hydrogen,” Crawford said. “Our solutions help decarbonize industries and applications that may be difficult otherwise. You’re seeing incentives and government mandates for decarbonizing, and large corporations are making commitments to being at net zero within a decade or so. We see the green hydrogen industry growing very fast.”

GKN Hydrogen is currently permitting the installation of its HY2MINI at the Carlsbad facility to serve as a demonstration unit for customers and provide backup power. The Carlsbad office is growing, and Crawford expects to have a team of 20 by the end of the year.

“California is a great place to attract and recruit people that have a background in renewable energy and energy storage,” he said. “Carlsbad, specifically, allows us to recruit out of southern Orange County as well as out of the San Diego region.”

Crawford has worked in the cleantech industry in San Diego for roughly 15 years. This is his first experience having a business in Carlsbad.

“I’m very impressed with the ecosystem that is here, the real estate that is here, the commitment to business and the business community,” he said.

Another cleantech industry leader that has its headquarters in Carlsbad is Calsense, where engineers design and assemblers make smart irrigation solutions that conserve water and save money.

Smart irrigation management is critical as climate change and the ongoing drought impact the state and nation. Calsense products put users of irrigation in the position of being able to reduce irrigation water usage by up to 40%, according to Calsense President and CEO A.J. van de Ven.

“We do this to make a difference,” van de Ven said.

For 35 years, Calsense has contributed to providing a sustainable future by developing water resource management tools and strategies. (Credit Calsense)

Calsense was founded in 1986 at the start of one of California’s longest droughts. The company’s original product was a soil moisture sensor, which would stop irrigation when the moisture content for a given area crossed a certain threshold.

The technology has evolved to maximize landscape potential and prevent water waste. Today, Calsense-controlled irrigation systems utilize on-site weather sensors and web-based weather data to determine when and where to irrigate.

“We view our customers as partners. I believe that high-touch relationship is a large aspect of why we’ve been so successful over the years,” van de Ven said. “We don’t believe in selling a widget or a product to a customer and walking away. We believe in supplying a long-term solution.”

Calsense-controlled irrigation systems utilize on-site weather sensors and web-based weather data to determine when and where to irrigate. (Credit Calsense)

Calsense recently announced irrigation management as a service to provide customers with a turnkey approach to smart irrigation management. The service enables customers to subscribe to rather than buy the company’s hardware, software and services needed to deploy and support its smart irrigation solution.

Cities, school districts, universities and other entities typically use capital budgets to purchase equipment and related services.

“This makes our product and the technology we offer available to the masses in a way it was never available before, hoping we can drive the industry in that direction,” van de Ven said. “We believe it’s not just going to revolutionize Calsense, but hopefully, the industry. Right now, the sky is the limit.”

For over 35 years, Calsense has contributed to providing a sustainable future by developing water resource management tools and strategies. The company started in one small suite on Corte del Nogal and has expanded over the years into four interconnected suites.

Van de Ven commended the city’s commitment to the business community.

“Carlsbad is so progressive when it comes to being business friendly,” van de Ven said. “The city fosters a great environment for businesses.”

To learn more about the growing cleantech industry and other thriving industry clusters in Carlsbad, read the 2022 City of Carlsbad Business Report.