Sorry, I can’t say I know yet where clean tech is heading in 2010. I’m still getting reoriented after the holiday. But early signs are that, as usual, both the hype and the backlash against the hype, are a bit overblown.
The Economist had a nice assessment of the post-Copenhagen landscape: mixed, essentially.
On the downside, the article said, a lack of firm mandate to cut emissions should have a chilling effect (pun accidental) on investment in clean tech. The article quoted VC Vinod Khosla as saying, “Almost all areas of clean technology will get a little less investor interest because there is no mandate.” And it said that German power company E.ON would back away from plans to accelerate plans to cut its emissions, which it had announced when it expect a firmer result out of Copenhagen.
On the upside, India and China have made important commitments to improve energy efficiency and rich countries have promised billions in green-investment support to poor countries. The article also rightly points out that a lot of the clean tech action to date has been driven by national, regional and local mandates and regulations, not international deals, and those were unaffected (so far) by Copenhagen. Finally, it’s worth noting that climate change mitigation is not the only driver of clean tech. Efforts to develop alternative energy supplies that are more secure than fossil fuels are an important driver as well. The recent period of volatile oil prices and geostrategic natural gas games in Eastern Europe (despite burgeoning global gas reserves) is a persistant motivator of investment in some cleantech subsectors. Chris Nelder is worth a close read for his take on the impact of resource scarecity on investment trends. He foresees a bull market in renewable energy investments. See his take on energy-related investment themes for the next decade here and here.
Some observers have taken note of a slow-down in venture investment in clean tech. Greentech Media tallied 2009 clean tech venture investments at around $5 billion in 2009, down from $7.6 billion in 2008. But in the broader context of overall VC, that decline doesn’t look so bad. According to the National Venture Capital Association, U.S. total VC investments in the first three quarters of 2009 were $12.2 billion, down from $22.1 billion during the same period of 2008. That’s a sharper decline than clean tech alone experienced.
What are the key questions facing clean tech and energy in 2010? I’d love to hear your thoughts and take some suggestions of what to dig into next on this blog.
Happy New Year.
Over the last few months I’ve been reading through the literature on clean tech, energy and sustainability. In case you are looking for suggestions, I can recommend any or all of these. If you have any reactions or suggestions for further reading, please consider leaving a comment.
Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry
Solar Revolution” provides an excellent overview of the spectrum of solar energy technologies and the prospects for the growth of solar energy. It is the
most thorough treatment I’ve ever read on the subject. Travis Bradford presents a holistic model comparing the total cost of solar energy with grid-based electricity alternatives and finds that solar is already more cost effective than many people realize. He also develops a sophisticated and persuasive model of the growth of the solar industry to show convincingly that solar is destined to become “the preferred energy choice for a large majority of locations and applications.”
Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming
Interesting and inspiring overview by Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, of the many technologies that are pointing the way to a carbon-free future and a chance of averting environmental catastrophe. Plenty of specific examples and some colorful characters as well. The book returns repeatedly to the importance of creating a cap and trade system in the U.S. It’s logic is as good as any I’ve seen, but it gives the carbon-tax approach short shrift (which is the author’s prerogative.) An engaging read for folks newly wondering how the world will get past fossil fuels.
Harvard Business Review on Green Business Strategy (Harvard Business Review Paperback Series)
Good collection of some classic and more recent articles on the topic of Green Business Strategy, including must-read “A Road Map for Natural Capitalism” by Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken.
Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution
Charming and witty look at how sustainability happens–and doesn’t–at real companies. Real-world, nitty-gritty examples mixed with some punditry and policy, this book is a good complement to the literature about greening and sustainability. And author Auden Schendler is an engaging storyteller.
Making Sustainability Work: Best Practices in Managing and Measuring Corporate Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts (Business)
Dry but systematic and tailored to the needs of executives and corporate sustainability professionals. Recommended for those kicking off or managing corporate sustainability initiatives.
Strategies for the Green Economy : Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business
Nice, crisp and current overview of green/sustainability from corporate and corporate marketing perspective by long-time pundit and consultant Joel Makower.
Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage
Packed with light case studies and some handy frameworks. If you are doing corporate sustainability you should probably read it, but but I suspect it works best as a lead generator for the authors’ consulting business.
The Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity
Good overview of the clean tech space.
The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power
Liked it a lot. See my thoughts at elsewhere on this blog.
I welcome your comments on the above or your suggestions for other reading.
Filed under biofuels, carbon, coal, efficiency, emissions, energy prices, energy storage, grid, illumination, natural gas, oil, solar, sustainability, transportation, water
Coal reserves have plunged. And natural gas reserves have soared. It might seem like divine intervention by carbon-hating gods. But it raises some questions. Reforming natural gas into hydrogen is one of the cheapest way of making hydrogen, and it’s a process that could be powered with by renewable energy. With natural gas supplies so plentiful, and prices bound to stay low for a long time, will the US reverse its decision to cut off funding for hydrogen fuel cells? (See my overview of fuel cell technology.) Will this give a boost to the Pickens plan?
The WSJ blog has a discussion of some of these topics.
I haven’t thought deeply about what this glut of natural gas might mean. If you have any thoughts about it, I’d love to read your comments.
With domestic North Sea gas production falling, older coal and nuclear plants being retired and lag times to replace them, Britain’s dependence on imported natural gas is expected to increase. Overall, gas is expected to account for 55% of British power generation by 2020. Read the full article here.