Top Ten Reasons Why Chicago is a Cleantech City


Chicago, the economic capital of Illinois, has constantly been responding to the increasing need for new sources of clean energy. Chicago currently has more than two megawatts of solar generating capacity. Chicago has had many other accomplishments since 2008. They have been able to buy more than 20 percent of its power from various renewable sources, and have provided grants to look into geothermal heat pump projects. The Clean and Renewable Energy strategy has the overall goal of decreasing total greenhouse gas emissions by 5.33 MMTCO2e by 2020 through implementing renewable and clean energy sources.

1) Employment. Because of the increased number of cleantech jobs available across Chicago. The largest area of employment in Chicago is in the wind energy division. Even with the current recession going on in the United States, Chicago has been able to create hundreds of jobs within the cleantech sector. Because of the increase into renewable energy, more individuals have been provided with jobs. For example, Chicago partnered with Exelon and SunPower Corporation to develop the largest urban solar power plan in the United States in Chicago. This opened up a number of jobs, while, at the same time, will produce enough solar power to run between 1,200 and 1,500 homes as well as save 14,000 tons in CO2 emissions.

2) Chicago Cleantech Companies. A number of the top cleantech businesses make their home in the Windy City. This includes SoCore Energy, a company offering municipalities, retailers, as well as commercial property owners with solar solutions including products and installation. There is also G-Tech Energy, Inc. which provides the Midwest with renewable energy products and services, including photovoltaic sales, installations, and energy audits.

3) Chicago Climate Action Plan October 2010 Update. In 2010, the Chicago Climate Action Plan sent out its latest update in how cleantech has been impacting the city of Chicago. Since this time, the Department of Environment’s Chicago Climate Action Plan programs resulted in the total completion of over 19,000 household energy efficiency retrofits. Over 30,000 square feet of green roof space has installed by the Department of Aviation. A campaign developed by the Department of Buildings passed an update to the new building code, requiring additional measures for building energy efficiency than in any other previous code.

4) Keeping it Green. There have been many efforts to assist the city in going green. To get more commercial property owners and office tenants reved up about the increase in renewable energy programs offered by Chicago, the mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, created the Chicago Green Office Challenge, in part with the Chicago Climate Action Plan, to assist participants in creating effective strategies to reduce energy, waste, and water use. Furthermore, the United States Green Building Council is located right in Chicago. And for further proof of Chicago’s green efforts, Merchandise Mart is the largest LEED silver building in the United States. In another bid to “keep it green” throughout the city, Commonwealth Edison Co., known as ComEd, has opted to create a “smart grid innovation” corridor right by Chicago. According to ComEd’s president, Anne Pramaggiore, this, “It allows us to study a variety of advanced Smart Grid technologies individually and in relation to each other. Through this deliberate approach, we will learn the best and most cost-effective way to deliver value to our customers, help them manage their bills, and improve system reliability.”

5) Chicago Clean Energy Alliance. Through the Chicago Clean Energy Alliance, Chicago is making an impact on the businesses in the greater Chicago area. Their goal is to bring businesses together to discuss ideas and promote the overall development of strategies that will provide for a much cleaner economy. The group provides networking opportunities with leading experts in biomass, solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy. It is their belief that through education and training, they can decrease overall carbon footprints of businesses.

6) The Residents of Chicago. Chicago residents have been greatly impacted by the increase in cleantech awareness. By relying on energy for their home that comes from renewable energy sources, homes have been able to save hundreds on their electricity bills. The Chicago Climate Action Plan has assisted in different things residents of Chicago can do to lower their electricity bills and reduce carbon emissions, such as unplugging appliances when they are off, replacing filters in appliances, going car-less when possible, adopt a tree programs in Chicago, and turning off lights when not in use.

7) Chicago as International Business Center for Cleantech Companies. Many international companies have looked toward Chicago as the headquarters for their operations within the United States. Many are attracted to the central location of the city, its international airport, educated workforce, and strong financial and legal expertise. In 2010, major Chinese wind energy company from China, Goldwind, planted their United States headquarters in Chicago. The Goldwind USA branch will, “offer a variety of wind power solutions including sales, service, and manufacturing platforms as well as debt and equity financing to customers and strategic partners through the Americas,” according to the official press release.

8 ) Education and Awareness. Because of the increase of cleantech within Chicago, there has been more awareness on important cleantech topics, including improved transportation, clean and renewable energy sources, creation of energy efficient buildings, and reduction in waste and industrial pollution. Therefore, more strategies have been conducted in order to achieve these topics, including local programs and policies, implementation of a renewable energy standard, and targeting high-impact sectors to create greenhouse gas reductions at a lower cost. One of the largest impacts cleantech has made in Chicago is the need to educate individuals on how to take advantage of what is available in terms of renewable energy. For example, at the Museum of Science and Industry, there is the “Smart Home.” This exhibit educates individuals on how their can create a more eco-friendly home and not spend a lot of money to do it.

9) Mainstream penetration for cleantech. Within Chicago, there is a focus on distributed generation to penetrate cleantech into the city, this includes creating and innovative financing system for clean energy, making renewable energy the new standard for all buildings, and reduce gaps in information. Through these local codes, in 2020, it is the hope that more than half the buildings in Chicago will be energy efficient, thirty-five percent of energy will be consumed from zero carbon DG, and ninety percent penetration rate for new construction.

10) Improvement in Transportation Systems. Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program, or CREATE, was created through a partnership with Chicago, the United States Department of Transportation and leading railroad companies to not only reduce congestion, improve public safety, and create jobs, but also promote rail as the most environmentally friendly transportation mode. As well, part f the High-Speed Rail Plan will be built in Chicago that will not only boost the economy and create more jobs, but create an alternative transportation option that will lower carbon emissions and reduce carbon footprints.

Article by Shawn Lesser, president and founder of Atlanta-based Sustainable World Capital, which is focused on fund-raising for private equity cleantech/sustainable funds, as well as private cleantech companies and M&A. He is also a co- founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association, and can be reached at

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