San Diego, California - America's Finest City |

San Diego skyline

Sustainable cities, like San Diego, have eco-city designs that prioritize consideration of social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate mitigation policies and sustainability policies. Green cities also prioritize resilient, thriving urban habitats for existing residents.

Among the top of any list of these clean, green eco-cities is San Diego, California. The city of San Diego has a citywide 100% renewable energy program, is implementing a zero-waste plan, and is changing policy to have a majority of the city's public transit fleet become electric vehicles.

San Diego bills itself as “America’s Finest City”,  and a sustainability powerhouse. Factors leading to San Diego becoming a city that runs entirely on renewable energy include the higher-than-average amount of sunshine in the area, along with the consensus among city leaders to pursue sustainability as a top priority. Additionally, California's push for 100% renewable energy (100RE) throughout the state has allowed San Diego to attempt to reach 100RE fairly quickly. To this end, San Diego has pushed ahead with its San Diego Climate Action Plan.

Sunny San Diego

San Diego Bay

San Diego is famous for its year-round mild climate, its bays and harbors, and popular beaches.

The city is also known for its US military ports and bases (especially for the Navy in downtown SD & the Marines in Camp Pendleton, North San Diego County - but also for bases of other military branches).

In recent decades, San Diego has become increasingly internationally recognized for its emergence as a global center for clean energy, healthcare, biotechnology, and technological research & development.

Coronado Bridge, San Diego

The San Diego Convention Center, and hotels in Coronado, host many national and international conferences including; many medical conferences, Politifest, the Global Investment Forum, and the Food Waste Solution Summit.

There are also many smart tech. and sustainability conferences put on by CleanTech San Diego. CleanTech San Diego is a non-profit trade organization and think-tank that promotes San Diego as a global leader in clean and sustainable technologies.  

"Cleantech San Diego is uniquely suited to support industry by fostering collaborations across the private-public-academic landscape, leading advocacy efforts to promote cleantech priorities, and encouraging investment in the San Diego region.” - CleanTech San Diego.

San Diego's Sustainability Initiatives

Smart Cities San DiegoThe City of San Diego is a leader of sustainability in the United States. An organization that represents the city's substantial contribution to sustainability was launched by Cleantech San Diego in 2011 - Smart Cities San Diego. Smart Cities San Diego is a public-private organization that advances sustainable, energy efficient technological development throughout San Diego county, renewable energy technologies, and water efficiency.

Smart Cities San Diego also has initiatives to support greenhouse gas reduction and lowering the carbon footprint of San Diego.

San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP)

view of downtown San Diego

The push for 100RE is a major part of the San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP); adopted citywide in December 2015. San Diego’s CAP is billed as a continuing push to make San Diego, “America’s Finest City”, now also its most sustainable city. San Diego plans to eliminate half of all greenhouse gas emissions (reach 50% GHG reduction by 2035 compared to 2010 levels) from the city and run entirely on renewable energy by 2035.

The city had an interim goal of 15% reduction by 2020 - in fact, they got well above that mark - to 24% GHG reduction citywide. San Diego was the first major city in the United States to commit to 100RE, and San Diego County has the highest number of cities countywide that have made 100RE pledges for any county in the nation.

San Diego's zero-waste goals

In addition to San Diego's CAP, the city has ambitious zero-waste goals:

The San Diego City Council recently adopted a zero waste plan that sets goals of 75 percent waste diversion by 2020; 90 percent by 2035, a goal consistent with the proposed Climate Action Plan; and “zero waste” by 2040.  FROM -

SDG&E and 100RE

The utility that is the lone energy provider to San Diego, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), is one of only several utilities nationwide to offer a 100RE option. San Diego’s sole utility (a de-facto monopoly), SD&E, offers an option for 50% or 100% solar energy as part of their “EcoChoice” plan. The EcoChoice plan offered straight from SDG&E, not a company providing the renewable energy service as an option for residents and businesses to the utility, an "aggregator” energy service.

Community Choice in San Diego

Update: 2019 Community Choice Success #sbcenergychoiceAn alternative energy service to the utility is an aggregator energy company; for example the San Diego and statewide “Community Choice” program. Community Choice operates throughout California, including San Diego, and also offers 50% and 100% options to supply residents/ businesses with power from renewable energy, but SDG&E still provides the actual energy maintenance service.

Community Choice is similar to SDG&E’s “EcoChoice”, but the customer pays the private energy aggregator to generate renewable energy, while SDG&E still maintains the actual energy service. Under Community Choice, for example, SDG&E still maintains the grid infrastructure, but instead of paying SDG&E for solar from exclusively large utility-scale solar farms, the customers pay Community Solar and support solar from a variety of local and state-wide renewable energy projects. By paying SDG&E directly through EcoChoice, residents and businesses are paying the utility directly to generate renewable energy. Both services help support renewable energy. 

Additionally, please see: Cleantech San Diego: Smart City

Here are a couple of excerpts from the San Diego Climate Action Plan:

Coronado Bridge

"The plan identifies steps the City of San Diego can take to achieve the 2035 [climate] targets. That list includes creating a renewable energy program, implementing a zero-waste plan, and changing policy to have a majority of the City’s [public transit] fleet be electric vehicles...the city has committed to slashing its greenhouse gases 15% below 2010 levels by 2020 and 50% below that benchmark by 2035. The goals are intended to mirror the state targets of reducing emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.”

" 2016 the city had already cut its emissions by 19%, a 2% improvement from the previous year. The report largely attributed that progress to the state’s strict vehicle-emissions standards and renewable energy requirements (for the city's utility, SDG&E)...”  - San Diego CAP 2016 PDF

Sustainability initiatives in San Diego (including a couple of potential initiatives)

San Diego Trolley, Harbour Dr., in front of the Convention Center

Public transportation options in San Diego include the MTS bus system, commuter rail (The Coaster), and light rail (The San Diego Trolley). Public transit in San Diego accounts for only 3.5% of county residents for all transportation in, and to & from, the city, for people living within 90 minutes of the city. The majority of people drive alone to work in the city, with a modest amount (<10%) choosing to carpool. Far fewer people walk or bike to work in San Diego city, generally people that already live in the area. There is potential for further development of public mass transit and alternative transit like biking, walking, and electric micro-mobility.

By focusing on developing, and increasing the use of, public transportation and sustainable alternative transit in San Diego, the city can most effectively reduce its carbon footprint. This is especially true of light rail in the city, which runs entirely on electricity. 

California mandates that every city in the state is to run on 100% clean energy by 2045. This is part of an effort by a group of bipartisan lawmakers within the state to have California make good on the state’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2045. The opposition and legal challenges to this effort are from fossil fuel companies, lawmakers who side with the fossil fuel companies, and California counties and cities that want to continue to keep natural gas in the energy mix for their municipalities beyond 2045. San Diego is already committed to 100% renewable energy, and seeks more than California’s GHG reduction goal - aiming for net zero GHGs by 2035

San Diego County already has a few cities that have made 100RE pledges, and has the highest number of 100RE pledges for any county in the nation.

Here’s the PDF for the full 74-page San Diego Climate Action Plan that was adopted in December 2015 (the San Diego CAP has been updated since passage, and some of those updates are reflected in this article and the PDF of the plan Green City Times links to here): 


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