Spearheaded by the International Center for Water Technology, Fresno State has been awarded a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission to establish the Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster.

The award will be used to provide key services, infrastructure and resources for energy entrepreneurs with the goal of successfully deploying and commercializing technologies and innovations in water and energy, said Dr. David Zoldoske, executive director of water initiatives at Fresno State.

“We will identify innovative entrepreneurs who are developing solutions to address the region’s needs in the water-energy and food space and provide them with tools and direction to bring the technology to market,” Zoldoske said.

The entrepreneurs will be offered a variety of services, including technology evaluation, proof-of-concept validation, advisory support, training, education and incubator services, as well as opportunities to connect with investors, industry leaders and potential customers.

The Energy Commission’s competitive grant establishes four innovation cluster regions: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley — each connecting emerging technologies to region-specific needs and opportunities. The Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster’s primary focus is on water and ag technologies.

The Valley provides water to over 20 million people and 7 million acres of farmland and produces over 80 percent of the state’s agricultural products. The region is challenged by acute needs to find solutions to its current energy and water demands.

To effectively engage with entrepreneurs in the 39 counties included in the Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster, a network of regional hubs has been established. The regional cluster hubs are located at California State University campuses in Bakersfield, Chico, Humboldt, Monterey Bay and Sacramento, and at the Sierra Business Council’s Small Business Development Center in Truckee.

The Fresno State team includes the Office of Community and Economic Development, the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Water and Energy Technology Incubator. The partnership will represent an opportunity to engage regional stakeholders and leverage and maximize the region’s vast assets and resources in structured framework and ultimately provide benefits and value to ratepayers.

The Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster will expand the existing programs and services available at the cluster hubs and link them to maximize regional planning and collaboration. Funding from the grant will also allow the Water and Energy Technology Incubator to double its dedicated office space from six to 12 companies and expand the “plug and play” space available to participating entrepreneurs.

“This award is a big step to expanding the number of innovative new products and technologies that can improve our water, air, energy and food production practices,” Zoldoske said. “The Central Valley is already well known throughout the world for water and energy and with the region already being home to a robust ecosystem of entrepreneurs, industry, research and end-users. This award will further spur innovation and commercialization. It will also serve as a vital educational tool for disadvantaged communities, as well as CSU faculty, staff and a workforce of 64 student interns that will be directly involved in this program.”

Providing quantifiable energy use benefits to disadvantaged communities is a key component to supporting economic development and innovation. Through outreach and educational programs, the cluster hubs will study energy use in disadvantaged communities and work to ensure a robust pool of innovators to address their energy challenges.