Asia big on providing clean energy

Region is more of a leading global manufacturer and provider of clean energy than it is the dominant innovator in the green tech field, analysts say.

Asian firms topped a recent survey on having the most number of green technology patents last year, but analysts stopped short of singling out the region as the world's leading green innovator. Instead, they view Asia first as a major player in providing and adopting clean energy research and technologies.

More companies in the region had clean tech patents than elsewhere globally in 2009, according to an October survey conducted by Spectrum magazine under the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a professional association promoting technological innovation.

The study found that out of the 50 companies identified as clean tech leaders, 24 were based in Asia, 22 in the United States, three in Europe, and one in Canada. In a blog post, Spectrum highlighted that though the survey was limited to only 2009--and not the accumulated portfolio of patents in an organization's clean tech R&D efforts--there has been a shift in green technology innovation from Europe to Asia.

Clean technology refers to efficient and renewable energy sources such as batteries, wind power, geothermal and solar energy or hydropower, which can generate power without harming the environment.

In an e-mail interview, Daman Sood, IEEE senior member, said that Asia in general still looks to the West and Japan for the latest green tech innovations. However, the region is ahead in adoption, particularly in CDM (clean development mechanism) projects, which he attributed to Asia's large population and to major developing economies such as India and China.

The two countries are major investors in clean technology, while also embracing green buildings, electric vehicle production and renewable energy.

Ben Cavender, associate principal, China Market Research Group (CMR), argued that Asia is only at the early stages of becoming a green tech innovator, particularly China. Over the last 10 years, "China has made tremendous strides in developing green power capacity, infrastructure and technology", he replied via e-mail.

To illustrate, Cavender referred to China's lead in green energy production worldwide. In manufacturing photovoltaic (PV) panels, Chinese firms make up five of the top 10 solar panel companies globally.

China is also the second leading wind-powered nation in the world, overtaking Germany.

Sarah Chambers, lead analyst, energy and sustainability at Datamonitor, offered that Asia should be seen as one of a number of key locations in the world for green tech innovation, competing on the global stage with other key regions. She said in an e-mail that Asia is actively driving innovation in renewable energies. However, she noted that in other aspects of green technology, such as environmental and waste management, the private sector in the Americas, predominantly the United States, still delivers the highest investment levels.

Kristian Steenstrup, vice president, Gartner, argued that Asia is not so much leading the consumption of green technology as it is in providing the technology at home and overseas.

Steenstrup reasoned that one factor is how foreign businesses typically rely on Asian firms, particularly in manufacturing, such as the significant Chinese involvement in clean tech businesses in the U.S.

Green efforts in Singapore
The city-state has taken numerous steps to spur green innovation, implementation and integration to develop the country as a clean energy global hub.

One of this is the S$20 million (US$15.5 million) electric vehicle (EV) testbed. Launched in 2009 by the multi-agency EV Taskforce, made up of the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and Land Transport Authority (LTA), the three-year testbed aims to evaluate the scope for large-scale adoption of EVs in the future, when the technology becomes more market-ready, according an EMA spokesperson. She added that there is potential for EVs on Singapore roads due to the country's size, compact urban environment, and robust power grid and ICT infrastructure.

In a media statement Oct. 8, the EV Taskforce announced the Transport Technology Innovation and Development Scheme (TIDES+) to motivate corporate fleet owners to participate in the testbed and take up EVs.

The scheme, administered by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and LTA, waives all vehicular taxes such as Additional Registration Fees (ARF), Certificate of Entitlement (COE), road tax and excise duty for the purpose of R&D and testbedding of transport technologies. Vehicles approved under TIDES+ also enjoy a tax waiver for an initial period of six years.

Karin Johnson, energy and sustainability analyst, Datamonitor, said in an e-mail that Asia is the highest growth market for HEVs (hybrid/electric vehicles). This is because countries such as China, Japan and South Korea do not have significant fossil fuel resources, and hence need to import a large proportion of their energy from other countries.

Johnson also noted that consumer receptiveness toward EVs is stronger in Asia than elsewhere globally. She cited that in a Datamonitor Green Consumer Attitudes on Automotive, 65 percent of Chinese respondents and 32 percent of Indian respondents stated that they would consider purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) in 2013, compared with the United Kingdom (28 percent) and the US (31 percent).

Like Johnson, Bernard Lim, CEO of Singapore-based company BrightLite Systems, which manufactures light-emitting diode (LED) lighting systems, agreed that Asia is leading the green tech innovation because most Asian countries like Singapore lack natural resources. They are thus wholly dependent on fuel imports, which bring along risks of fluctuation in energy prices.

Lim brought up examples such as the city-state's push in green energy R&D funding of some S$350 million (US$272 million) allocated for initiatives in clean energy.

For instance, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) has begun replacing fluorescent light tubes located in public housing estates with energy-saving LED lights.

Another government-driven endeavor is the Clean Energy Program Office (CEPO), set up in 2007 for planning and executing clean energy strategies. The inter-agency workgroup has since pushed schemes such as the S$17 million (US$11.3 million) Clean Energy Research & Testbedding (CERT) program, which provides opportunities for companies to develop applications and solutions to test clean energy technologies.

There is also the S$20 million (US$14.6 million) Solar Capability Scheme, which offers funding for new private buildings to install solar technologies.

Energy management company, Schneider Electric, opened its first energy-efficient global logistics hub in Singapore on Oct. 27.

Stuart Thorogood, president, Schneider Electric Southeast Asia, explained in an e-mail interview that the city-state was seen as a good base to lead green technology, given the government's support and initiatives for green technologies such as CEPO. The Schneider Electric Energy Efficient Hub aims to help businesses realize energy efficiency, Thorogood said.


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