This just in from the Clean Edge research firm: "Clean Energy Trends 2011," which discusses five ongoing market trends that will continue to impact clean tech and clean energy sectors for the next several years. There is a ton of new and historical data in this hefty analysis, so I recommend that you download the whole thing. For summary, here are the things to watch, in the order they are listed in the report:
- The incandescent light-bulb phaseout: Mind you, the U.S. law that mandates the phaseout of incandescent bulbs starting in 2012 is under attack, but Clean Edge nonetheless believes the U.S ban -- and corresponding efforts in Japan, China, South Korea and the European Union have gotten consumers and businesses to rethink energy efficiency metrics when it comes to lighting. There are many alternatives now on the market and even though many of them carry much higher pricetags than the ones they will replace, they are designed to last much longer, which means you don't need to replace them as often. Something that U.S. critics of the ban seem to keep forgetting about.
- The power of natural gas: The move to include natural gas in clean energy mandates is a major development, albeit one that has sparked very loud debate. Natural gas IS the cleanest fossil fuel, and it is relatively plentiful. Clean Edge believes that utilities will begin teaming up gas with renewables such as solar and wind in order to help address the intermittent nature of those energy sources. So, essentially, creating a new sort of hybrid power plant. Organizations to watch, according to Clean Edge, include the following: Florida Power & Light (specifically the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center), NV Energy and Inland Energy (which are both working on hybrid plants), Altresco and PG&E.
- Cleaner aviation fuels: In January 2012, a European Union cap on airline emissions means that the carriers over there need cleaner alternatives if they want to increase flight capacity. Apparently a number of the biofuels makers -- Amyris, ClearFuels, Sapphire Energy, Solazyme and Solena Fuels -- are focusing on aviation fuels as a result.
- Low-cost green buildings: Let's face it, no one wants to spend more money to be green. But apparently sustainable construction isn't just hot in emerging countries such as Kenya, Haiti or Pakistan, it is being used as a cornerstone of environmentally sensitive architectural movements in U.S. communities, such as New Orleans. The catalyst for this is "open source" as in, sharing designs and ideas. One organization to watch, according to Clean Edge, is the Open Architecture Network created by non-profit Architecture for Humanity. I'll bet a key focus for this movement will be the reconstruction effort in Sendai, Japan, and other earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged communities in the north of the island nation.
- Rare earth alternatives: This is a sourcing dilemma. Apparently, many of the rare earth materials -- as well as substances such as lithium, cobalt, indium, gallium and tellurium -- that are critically important for cleantech are sourced from China. Which has slashed its export quotas. So, increasingly, cleantech innovators are looking for technologically developed processes and alternatives. An example is the partnership between Tesla and Toyota: the motor that Toyota has licensed from Tesla doesn't use any rare earth alternatives. Proactive attention to the potential sourcing issue of the future will be imperative.