11 green-tech stories I want to write in 2011

I tend to be a Pollyanna-esque sort of journalist, looking for optimism and positive news wherever I can find it. So, my list of green technology "predictions" (if you can really call them that) is strictly focused on the things that I hope will happen in the year-to-come.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

I tend to be a Pollyanna-esque sort of journalist, looking for optimism and positive news wherever I can find it. So, my list of green technology "predictions" (if you can really call them that) is strictly focused on the things that I hope will happen in the year-to-come. Yes, of course, these are things that are also at least somewhat likely to happen, based on my read of current events. There is no particular order to this list.

#1: Makers of renewable energy technology and energy storage technology team up on more commercial-scale projects. One of the biggest complaints about renewable energy continues to be the intermittent nature of sources such as the sun and the wind. One of the biggest concerns associated with electric vehicles surrounds "range" anxiety and how far one of these cars can travel on one charge. With that in mind, I'd like to hear more about practical applications of energy storage technologies in 2011, ala the joint project by International Energy and Princeton Power Systems that I wrote about in this blog from September 2010.

#2: Energy-efficient lighting technology booms as businesses invest. The trends in cleantech venture capital pointed to an accelerating interest in energy efficiency projects throughout 2010. Many businesses are moving first to address the efficiency of their lighting, which you might consider the low-hanging fruit in terms of corporate sustainability projects. A survey I reported about last spring is a leading indicator: More than half of facilities managers believe that green lighting technology will show a quicker return on investment than pretty much any of their green technology options.

#3: Solar adoption continues to outpace expectations. A new update from the Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the U.S. solar photovoltaic industry has grown an average of 69 percent annually for the past decade. 2010 was a record year for installations -- before the third quarter had even ended. At the last count, 530 megawatts of capacity had been added in the United States by that time, compared with 435 megawatts for all of 2009. I think that the emergence of new cost-effective residential options that are more "plug and play" to install (like what Clarian Power is developing) along with another extension of the Department of Treasury Section 1603 program  will help fuel another breakout year in 2010.

#4: Electric cars finally find a following with "average" Americans. OK, let's be real. So far most of the electric car or electric hybrid options -- ala the Tesla -- have been available in the United States have been far from accessible to most of us. But all bets are off now that the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt have hit the market. One big factor, according to a new report on electric vehicles from Pike Research, will be the programs the many of the big rental car companies -- including Avis, Hertz and Enterprise -- to incorporate electric vehicles into their rental fleets.

#5: More businesses embrace formal policies for handling electronic waste. Earlier this week, I interviewed the president of systems integrator Valcom, Chuck Birmingham, about this very topic. Valcom is allied with CloudBlue, which is a company that handles recycling, refurbishment and reuse of older technology. Birmingham reports that more and more midsize and enterprise companies are adopting more detailed electronic waste (e-waste) policies. Valcom now receives an average of two proposal requests per week. "They want to be able to get rid of the old at the same time they are deploying the new," he says. One thing that will definitely be a continuing story. The emergence of certifications (ala e-Stewards) that companies can rely on to know that their technology is being disposed of securely (from a data destruction standpoint) and responsibly (as in, items aren't being sent to landfills or exported to countries where they might do environmental damage).

#6: Mega-Enterprise XYZ cites energy efficiency as key factor in cloud sourcing decision. Power and cooling considerations have become a key consideration in data center design decisions, so much so that Gartner is predicting a major overhauls in the design of new data centers over the next five years. Gartner outlines five ways that businesses can reduce power consumption, which in turn will improve data center efficiency. My belief is that these considerations will play a big role in whether or not companies build a new data center -- or turn to the cloud to add desired new computing capacity. Increasingly, power management and energy-efficiency best practices are things that it might be worth sourcing from an expert, rather than developing them in-house.

#7: Waste not, want not: More companies explore ways to use "waste" energy to good advantage. This one actually comes from IBM's annual list of five technologies that it believe will have a profound impact on our world within five years. Obviously, they are built off current IBM research and development projects, but one of the ones I found intriguing is the idea that instead of cooling off a data center, you might be able to use that excess heat in more productive ways --  such as to heat a building. Paul Bloom, CTO for telecom research with IBM, points to a pilot program with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology that is looking at how to cool a supercomputer with water technologies. He likens the technique to the network of capillaries in a human body. In this instance, however, the heated water would travel away from the computer to be used for heating and then return to keep the system cool again.

#8: Energy management applications gain ground in homes, businesses. While I still have difficulty accepting that the average citizen will proactively take action to manage power consumption, 2011 promises to bring big changes to the concept of energy management. First off, expect some consolidation, because there are just way too many people trying to deliver this functionality. The most successful of the pilots will point the way to the relevant players. On the corporate side, there will likewise be revelation and consolidation as businesses realize that standalone energy and carbon management tools are only as good as the context in which they are considered. There are many best-of-breed players, but watch for some acquisitions by the enterprise software behemoths.

#9: Green building revolution continues. Just last week, I wrote about the spate of energy efficiency retrofits that were being undertaken by cities around the United States. A couple of days ago I heard about another deal, a $30 million project by Ameresco for the San Francisco Housing Authority that will unfurl over the next 20 years. The contract covers new lighting, new plumbing fixtures, all sorts of heating improvements, cogeneration capacity and the installation of energy management systems. Speaking of which, Pike Research predicts that the building energy management systems market will grow from $900 million in 2010 to $2.4 billion by 2016. That's annual revenue. Here's perspective from the press release about the report (courtesy of analyst Jevan Fox): "Commercial building efficiency in general, and the building energy management systems market more specifically, are emerging as hot growth areas due to the strong return on investment (ROI) that such deployments can bring to building owners and managers. Most of the industry focus is on larger buildings today, but over the next few years, vendors who can provide an attractive ROI to buildings smaller than 200,000 square feet will reap large benefits."

#10: Serious progress made on smart grid security. Since most of the consternation surrounding smart meter projects has much to do with consumer privacy and security concerns, I would love to see more attention paid to this area in 2011. Last summer occasioned the arrival of the socalled Stuxnet worm, which threatened the technology behind some of the utility industry's CURRENT grid management technology. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released its cybersecurity guidelines for smart grid security in September. Pike Research predicts that spending on smart grid security technology will reach $1.7 billion by 2013, compared with a mere $700 million in 2010.

#11: Forget the outlet, power your mobile through wireless, solar and kinetic means. OK, this one is a bit out there and the one company that I was hoping would do great things with kinetic power M2E Power, bit the dust more than a year ago and the company that bought its assets, Motionetics, isn't saying much of anything. But here's the thing: We need a better way to keep our mobile gadgets charged. As I'm sure that all of the people stranded in the Northeast blizzard can tell you, there just aren't enough electric outlets to go around -- especially considering all the devices we have begun to carry. Certainly, longer-lasting batteries will be one way around this, but we need better mobile charging options. Stat! Tell me about some. Seriously.

What green technology stories would you like me to cover more in 2011? Add your comments to this blog or e-mail me directly at heather@heatherclancy.com.

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