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Tina Casey headshot

Three Clean Tech Trends to Watch In 2020

By Tina Casey
Clean Tech Trends

With the new year having arrived, now is a good time to gaze into the crystal ball and gauge some of the top clean tech trends that could help accelerate the decarbonization of the U.S. economy over the next 12 months — and what could hold it back, too.

Electric Vehicles — nope, scratch that and replace with electric buildings

Between Tesla’s Cybertruck and Ford’s Mustang Mach-E (pictured above), snazzy new electric vehicles (EVs) got loads of media attention as 2019 drew to a close. However, anyone hoping for EVs to have a significant impact on decarbonization in the U.S. will have to wait quite a while longer.

Edmunds and other auto industry analysts are predicting another strong turnout for overall car sales in 2020. That means new gasoline-powered automobiles will continue to flood the streets over the next 12 months. The popularity of gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks will add to the hurt.

Meanwhile, electric vehicles will remain a minuscule part of the mobility market.

It’s a different story in the building electrification movement, where local jurisdictions can force the market for electric power simply by banning new natural gas hookups.

With overall electricity consumption flatlining, electricity stakeholders also have a bottom line incentive to help promote electric conversation for the estimated 70 million existing homes using gas, oil or propane.

That’s why building electrification tops the TriplePundit Top 5 list again, just as it did last year, and repeatedly at that. Look for more activity in this field in the months to come.

Energy storage good; long-duration energy storage better

One decarbonization issue for both electric vehicles and buildings is the continued reliance on fossil fuels to power the grid.

Energy storage can help solve that challenge, but there is still a problem.

The problem is the continued reliance on lithium-ion battery arrays for bulk energy storage. At best, these batteries can store energy only for a few hours. Currently, pumped hydro is the only option for storing wind and solar energy in bulk over long periods.

The solution is to invent new kinds of economical bulk energy storage that last ten hours or more.

Ten hours is the goal set by the Department of Energy for long-duration energy storage. The federal agency has been funneling millions into supporting new storage technology with the ultimate aim of reducing, if not eliminating, the need to build new gas power plants.

Long duration energy storage could also help relieve transmission bottlenecks in some areas, which would help avoid the cost of new grid upgrades.

What’s needed now is support for long duration R&D from the private sector. It has been slow in coming, but Wood Mackenzie’s GreenTech Media foresees an avalanche of investment in 2020 and we agree.

Bonus trend: hydrogen, hydrogen, hydrogen

Hydrogen fits neatly into the category of long duration energy storage, but it deserves its own section because it carries widespread implications for accelerating wind and solar development.

For those of you new to the topic, hydrogen is a zero-emissions fuel that has innumerable applications in industry, including food processing. Its use in transportation and energy storage is also increasing.

Hydrogen also made the TriplePundit Top 5 list last year on account of the emergence of renewable hydrogen, sourced from water rather than natural gas.

Last year the big news was also all about renewable hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, including trucks and other heavy duty equipment as well as boats and aircraft.

This year the more interesting activity will occur in the area of stationary energy storage in general, and long duration energy storage in particular.

Maine could be one state to watch. Policy makers in the state are currently eyeballing a proposal for a new hydrogen energy storage system that would forestall the need to upgrade its transmission system.

Come to think of it, Maine has remained out of the clean tech spotlight for too long. The state is swimming in renewables including wind, solar, biomass, biogas, and hydropower, and it just might be ready to be center focus as governments and business sort out how to decarbonize the U.S. economy.

Next week, we will continue this discussion by zeroing on new developments in the renewables sector you should keep your eyes on in the coming year.

Image credits: Ford Motor Co.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey