End of the Beginning: Cleantech Group Offers Ten Predictions for 2010

CleantechGroupLogo-RGBlargeJPG320x320The Cleantech Group, the guys who literally invented the word “cleantech” (and own the trademark — so watch out) today released “Ten Predictions for 2010: Trends to Watch For in Global Cleantech in the Year Ahead,” the investment information hub’s annual list of predictions for the future of clean technology.

It’s actually a pretty juicy read.

The End of the Beginning

That’s the tag line for this year’s list, which marks 2010 as the year clean technology matures from a boutique investment area into a bona fide “mainstream” sector.

The hope among cleantech investors and CEOs alike is that an improved economy and government spending will finally accelerate cleantech to escape velocity.

That’s the general prediction for 2010. The more specific are:

  1. Private capital growth recovers, record fund year
  2. Clean economies become the new space race
  3. Electric cars take a back seat to “smart mobility”
  4. Resource constraints beyond carbon rise to the fore
  5. Commodity trade-off debates intensify
  6. Energy efficiency eclipses solar power
  7. Marketing suddenly matters
  8. Buffett leads the super rich into cleantech
  9. Acquisitions and consolidations accelerate
  10. The rise of waste-to-energy, geothermal and aquaculture

Some of these predictions are more daring than others.  Marketing is obviously becoming more important: as an industry expands, companies need to differentiate themselves and create brands to survive.

This was highlighted by 3P’s recent interview with SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive, who said the solar installation biz is being gobbled up by a handful of national brands with real marketing budgets.

International competition over clean technologies, especially between China and the US, is already shaping into a space race, although whether it captures the public’s attention in the same way remains to be seen.

One Word: Aquaculture.

Perhaps the most out-there prediction is the last one, the rise of waste-to-energy, geothermal and sustainable aquaculture. At least in this country, all three of those technologies are niche. Sustainable aquaculture in particular is an interesting addition. From the report:

“With current approaches to aquatic farming proving largely unsustainable, and increasing concerns over ocean toxicity and species imbalance, new thinking and technologies are emerging about how to sustainably harvest food from the sea.”

The report cites Hawaii and Oman as emerging centers for this cleantech.

Ominous Predictions Included

Two of the predictions, about non-carbon resource constraints, and commodity tradeoffs, are definitely worth paying attention to. This year brought rumors China would tighten restrictions on the export of certain rare earths used in the manufacture of  wind turbines and certain electric motors. China currently supplies about 97 percent of these minerals, and demand is increasing.

A bigger, and more long-term problem is the emerging tension between renewable energy developers and environmentalists and other local stakeholders over natural resources — primarily land and water. It will be very difficult for states like California to meet ambitious renewable energy standards (aka Renewable Portfolio Standards, or RPS) if it takes solar plants years of haggling just to begin construction.

Expertise, Simplified

It is the talent of an expert to take a lot of complex information and distill it into a  statement that, on the face of it, seems obvious.

Nicholas Parker and Dallas Kachan, principal authors of Ten Predictions for 2010, understand their industry as well as anyone, and it shows in the report, which should be required reading for anyone involved in cleantech. Unfortunately, the full report is only available to Cleantech.com’s subscribers.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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