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Clean-tech: a decade of explosive growth with more to come

Wind What a difference a decade makes. Once shunned as an industry only a tree-hugger could love, clean-tech has blossomed into an economic heavyweight, according to a report from research firm Clean Edge Inc.

Companies working on green construction and the smart grid are proliferating, the study said. From less than 10,000 hybrid electric vehicles in 2000, now more than 1.4 million are speeding around U.S. roads.

The solar photovoltaics market grew an average of 40% each year over the past decade to $71.2 billion in 2010 from $2.5 billion in 2000. The average cost of installing a photovoltaic system back then was $9 per peak watt; it’s now $4.82. In related news, the solar industry has logged another record-breaking year with a market value of $6 billion in 2010.

The wind industry saw similar growth, jumping an average of 30% each year to $60.5 billion last year from $4.5 billion in 2000, the report concluded. Nearly a quarter of all venture capital in the U.S. goes into clean-tech ventures now, compared with less than 1% in 2000.

The upswing follows the same momentum that telephones, computers and the Internet rode, said Ron Pernick, managing director of Clean Edge. 

“The markets are getting to a place where they’re not quite reaching maturation but have grown quite a bit off a very small foundation,” he said. “We’ll eventually see a cooling-off of sorts as the clean energy market reaches wide adoption and utility-scale deployment, but overall the markets have been astounding.”

Over the prior year, the combined global revenue for solar photovoltaics, wind power and biofuels surged 35.2%, up to $188.1 billion from $139.1 billion and is on track to reach $349.2 billion in 10 years.

Biofuels are expected to double to $112.8 billion by 2020. Solar photovoltaics will boom to $113.6 billion by 2020 from $71.2 billion in 2010, according to Clean Edge. Wind, which has struggled against difficult project financing and pressure from Chinese competition, is projected to also double to $122.9 billion by 2020.

As the industry adjusts to its growth, there will be more consolidation, Pernick said.

“In the end, it’s going to be a cost game,” he said. “Some companies are going to have a hard time surviving and others will be acquired.”

And moving forward, Clean Edge forecasts that cheap LED lights will become ubiquitous as less-efficient incandescent lights are phased out. Natural gas will be paired with wind and solar power generation technologies, researchers said.

Other predictions: The aviation industry will move increasingly into cleaner fuels such as algae while breakthroughs will help uncover alternatives to the rare earth elements that are in tight supply.



California's clean-tech industry is booming but threatened

Sales of electric cars might lack juice

China leapfrogs U.S. wind power industry

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Power transmission lines near Goldendale, Wash. Credit: Gordon King/Associated Press/The Yakima Herald-Republic

Comments () | Archives (7)

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Simply awesome!

It would be nice to get the FULL costs of fossil fuels inline - think if we could add the $3T spent on Iraq "war" to the true cost of oil; or if we could add the massive increase in insurance costs to coal.

However, this is very good news, and something we can all be proud of!

AB 32 will only promote this even more so, so watch out next decade, this pace is about to increase dramatically!

Dangermouse: The vast majority of solar-electric modules consist of glass (front), tedlar-like material (back), aluminum (frame), silicon (cell), boron and phosphorous (in the cell), plastic (junction box), copper (cables), cable insulation, silicone sealant (around the frame)... I'd be interested in knowing from you what are the toxic carcinogens and hazardous wastes generated from these materials. I hope all industries would be answering these same questions, not just the solar-electric, glass and aluminum industries. We all need to be working towards an industrial ecology model where there is no such thing as waste.

I share your optimism that the change to a sustainable economy will happen but am less optimistic as to the timeline. Great comments about life cycle impact of materials used in clean tech products. There is no questions tha silicon and other materials used are based on fossil fuel and toxic products, as that is simply the industry standard. This is starting to change as transparency about product ingredients is becoming more common and tools to hold such companies accountable (Pharos, LEED, FCC's Green Guidelines, etc) are made available. My organization is taking the approach at helping design and construction firms revisit the process they use in institutionalizing sustainability in their company. Learn more at

Yes but let us remember that, strictly speaking, "green growth" is an oxymoron and "less-brown growth" is more telling: .

Knowing that, sustainability becomes a matter of steady state economics: .

Yes, indeed, there are toxic metals and processes involved in most photovoltaic materials; but, it is contained, and materials are recycled instead of dumped into landfills. The PV industry has probably the smallest environmental impact of all sources of energy, with 40 plus years of clean electricity for the cost of only 2 or 3 years of energy input. It is getting less expensive every year and deserves a big chunk of R&D funding so that start-up costs and energy-storage issues can be overcome more easily.
Geothermal, Methane-Biodigestors, other Biomass, and wind industries will make petroleum less necessary in the coming decades; and hopefully, make nuclear clearly too costly (arguably too costly and risky already).

Cost-competitiveness is the only way to bring more money into this industry. Unfortunately, the best way to do this is by passing a nationwide energy policy that reduces uncertainty for investors. In a Congress controlled by Republicans (which are often backed by fossil fuel money), this seems unlikely at best.

Luca Semprini
Powering a Nation

Hey genius':

Your 'clean tech' - do you have any idea the use and the amounts of highly toxic carcinogens and hazardous wastes generated in fabricating solar panels?

Or did you think they are made from flower petals, stars, moons and green clovers?


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