Sneha Ayyagari

Senior Program Manager for a Clean Energy Initiative

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The start of 2023 was marked with record breaking floods and natural disasters, with the worst impacts falling on communities of color, low-income families, and disinvested communities. The growing frequency and unequal outcomes of these climate-related events bring into sharp focus the need to transition to cleaner forms of energy, equitably. We must double down on energy solutions that both reduce emissions and build community resilience. 

The clean energy economy offers an opportunity to not only slow the devastating impacts of climate change on our communities, but to create jobs and economic opportunity for those that are most impacted. This is at the heart of The California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development Initiative (CalSEED). CalSEED provides professional development and financial support to nonprofit organizations, companies, and individuals developing new clean energy technological innovations, with the goals of expanding economic opportunity while advancing energy equity.

What is CalSEED?

Funded by the California Energy Commission, CalSEED is an early-stage grant funding and professional development program. Rooted in a vision of an equitable clean energy economy that drives affordability and resilience, CalSEED supports innovators from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in California who are developing technologies that will help advance equitable access to clean energy solutions.

To be selected for a CalSEED award, applicants must identify how, when scaled, their proposed technology will drive positive social impact. The program defines social impact as the economic and environmental benefits of transitioning to clean energy for all California ratepayers. These benefits could include expanding the use of renewable energy, building a safe and resilient electricity system, advancing electric technologies, enabling a more decentralized electric grid, improving affordability, health, and comfort, and supporting California’s local economies and businesses. 

CalSEED participants also must demonstrate how their solutions advance energy equity. The program defines energy equity as technological solutions that lead to affordable access to energy, greater economic opportunities, and enhanced resilience in California communities considered “disadvantaged” due to legacies of systemic disinvestment. These communities are typically low-income communities and communities of color that suffer disproportionate socio-economic burdens. Disadvantaged communities are defined using the CalEnviroScreen, a state mapping tool that helps identify California communities that are most affected by pollution and poor socio-economic conditions. 

The social impact and energy equity requirements of the CalSEED program are designed to encourage clean energy innovators to build energy equity into the foundation of their ideas, how they design their products, and how they run their companies. CalSEED also provides training and guidance to awardees to help them set and achieve strong equity goals that advance energy equity through technological innovation and encourage intentional business practices.

Climformatics: Advancing Social Impact and Energy Equity through CalSEED

We recently chatted with current CalSEED awardee, Dr. Subarna Bhattacharyya, about her experiences with her company, Climformatics, headquartered in Fremont,California. Dr. Bhattacharyya’s work at Climformatics focuses on building climate models that help communities and decision-makers anticipate and prepare for climate-related disasters, and develop safer and more resilient electricity systems. 

Climformatics is an ethnically diverse, women-owned company founded by former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate modelers. The Climformatics leadership team has a deep understanding and domain knowledge of the problems posed by climate change, and works to envision new ways Climformatics solutions can help proactively mitigate climate risks. They aim to incorporate the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the organization’s mission, vision, values, policies, processes, and partnerships at every step.

Climformatics solutions support climate disaster preparedness in vulnerable communities, help lower the costs of clean energy by lowering the cost burden to utility ratepayers of responding to disasters, and enable long-term climate adaptation planning to mitigate the threats of climate catastrophes. 

Climformatics exemplifies a key criteria CalSEED looks for in application—social impact. Climformatics provides models that can better assess risks from wildfires, droughts, and other climate disasters. Because 40% of the most destructive wildfires have been caused by utility powerlines, having this data can help utilities (as well as other stakeholders such as local governments and community groups) anticipate and avoid potential wildfire disasters. This can improve public health and safety for all California residents as well as reduce the costs of addressing these disasters which often falls to ratepayers.

Climformatics’s analysis also has the potential for advancing energy equity by providing key decision makers with information about forecasts for natural disasters. As a result of historic disinvestment, currently many communities do not have the economic means to relocate or evacuate during disasters and may have limited access to transportation and building retrofits. Having more time and relevant data to anticipate and prepare for disasters can inform more equitable climate adaptation planning and allocation of resources in disaster relief programs.

Within Climformatics, Dr. Bhattacharyya has partnered with a local university to recruit and train interns that come from all over the world. This includes students from rural places affected by wildfires in California and countries that are experiencing severe climate impacts such as Yemen, South Korea, China, Japan, Canada, and the UK. The students use their own personal experiences and technical skills to contribute to the Climformatics team.

CalSEED has been helpful to Climformatics because it has provided greater visibility and a supportive community of entrepreneurs with similar values and goals. Being connected with companies who are working on a variety of technologies has sparked ideas for how Climformatics can collaborate with others on building holistic solutions that address the energy affordability and access issues that several entrepreneurs are working on. Being part of the CalSEED cohort has opened the door to future funding opportunities and chances to scale up their idea further.

While she and her team initially did face some challenges as women in gaining funding and connections, Dr. Bhattacharyya believes that with persistence, confidence, skill, and supporters that they have been able to be successful in developing and expanding the reach of their technology. 

When asked about what advice Dr. Bhattacharyya has for women entering the clean energy field, she said one of her goals is to encourage and inspire women from around the world to work on climate change. Women often have a deep understanding of climate change not only from their roles as professionals, but also as anchors of family, and community leaders and they can bring this perspective to all aspects of their lives. Educating young women about science, technology, and climate change can help embed values of conservation and innovation early on in their lives. She emphasized the importance of educational opportunities to help women enter the rewarding fields of science and technology to help position them as leaders in solving climate and societal issues.

Women often have a deep understanding of climate change not only from their roles as professionals, but also as anchors of family, and community leaders and they can bring this perspective to all aspects of their lives.

Read more here about Climformatics and here about the work that other companies are doing to advance energy equity and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive climate tech industry with support from the CalSEED program. 

Get Involved with CalSEED

There are three ways to get involved:

1. Apply: Applications open on February 17, 2023. The application period will only be open for two weeks, closing on March 5, 2023. Learn more about the application process here.

CalSEED is open to any California based individual, non-profit group, research group, company, or organization with an qualifying early stage clean energy innovation. Individuals who identify as women, people of color, veterans, Indigenous,and/or LGBTQ+ are highly encouraged to apply.

2. Join an info session: 

  • CalSEED hosted virtual session
    • Feb 15th 11:00 am – 12:00 pm PT: sign up here.
    • Recordings to past sessions are available here.

3. Share with your network:

Please share if you know of nonprofits, individuals, or companies with innovative clean energy ideas that advance equity. Feel free to share this blog as well as posts from CalSEED’s media kit.

Sneha Ayyagari

Senior Program Manager for a Clean Energy Initiative

Read Bio