By Tracy Taylor
According to Clean Energy Trends 2011, a new report by Clean Edge, the growth of clean technology over the last decade rivals that of the internet and computers, and it is poised to continue the trend. Clean Edge’s research revealed biofuels, wind power, and solar photovoltaics combined to create a $188.1 billion industry in 2010 – and the clean-tech sector research firm projects these three technologies will grow to $349.2 billion in the next decade. Clean Energy Trends 2011 takes an in-depth look at five key trends that Clean Edge believes will shape clean-energy markets over the next decade: the phase-out of incandescent lights, advances in natural gas, cleaner aviation fuels, low-cost green building, and viable alternatives to high-demand rare-earth metals.
Whereas compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) were once thought to be the solution to energy-intensive incandescent bulbs, the eyes of the future have turned to another lighting technology: solid-state light emitting diodes (LEDs). Companies are currently on the verge of creating the first affordable LED replacement for the standard 60-watt incandescent bulb, without the mercury content and dimming constraints seen in CFL bulbs. With an estimated savings of 80% of energy over incandescent equivalents, the future is looking bright for LED technology.
Integrating natural gas into renewable energy systems will also play an integral role in the clean energy markets of the future, according to the report. Clean Energy Trends 2011 highlights hybrid systems that address renewable energy intermittency issues while sharing existing infrastructure and reducing upfront capital costs. Noting that natural gas is not without its environmental risks, the report acknowledges the need for proper regulation and oversight for the combination of natural gas and renewables to truly fit into the “clean-tech” future.
The third trend of the future that the report observes is poised for significant growth is commercial aviation. With CO2 emissions from aviation set to quadruple by 2050 in an industry that remains susceptible to the continually rising petroleum prices, the aviation business is already on its way to integrating clean technology into its fleets. The International Air Transport Association estimates that 50 percent of all jet fuel will be derived from bio-fuels by 2040.
Low-cost green building is another wave of the future, especially in disaster-stricken and international communities. The sustainable and energy-conserving construction focuses on locally sourced and recycled materials, small-scale wind and solar, and rainwater collection to create low-cost communities that often help to rebuild the local economy. One company, WorldHaus, plans to make a $2,500 housing kit available this year in India, Kenya, and South Africa.
Finally, the report details the innovation leading to viable alternatives for rare-earth metals that play a vital role in various technologies, including large wind turbines, hybrid vehicles, and electronic devices such as hard drives and smart phones. The advance of these rare-earth mineral reliant technologies puts an unquantifiable stress on the supply chain of rare-earth minerals, pushing technological innovation that eases supply risks and keeps these industries thriving.
Clean Energy Trends 2011 shows how far the clean technology industries have come and how far they have yet to go. While it is estimated that the global clean-tech race will result in innovation and declining costs, the industry will face its share of hurdles. If these predicted budgetary shortages and supply chain constraints can be met with the same creative solutions that started the industry in the first place, the clean technology sector will inevitably shape the way of the future.
Tracy Taylor is a third year law student at the University of Denver. She looks forward to seeing what the future holds for clean-energy innovations.