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Clean Energy's Long Boom

Ron Pernick's picture

Back in 2001, when we launched Clean Edge, recognition of clean energy among corporations, investors, governments, and the media was barely palpable. The signs of a coming boom were there -- with governments like Japan and Germany, corporations such as Sharp and BP, and a handful of venture capitalists making strategic investments -- but we had to look long and hard at the road ahead to uncover the trends. Today, things couldn't be more different. As we report in our fifth annual Clean Energy Trends 2006 report, the clean-energy tipping point is nigh. For the first time in modern history, clean-energy technologies are becoming cost-competitive with their "dirtier" counterparts. While oil and natural gas prices increase dramatically, wind and solar continue their near-relentless downward trend. Biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) are growing at double digit rates and now represent a larger global market than either solar or wind. At a time when the U.S. economy struggles to gain traction and faces unprecedented challenges from volatile energy prices, depleted natural resources, unreliable sources of foreign oil, record deficits, and new environmental and security challenges, we believe clean energy offers the promise to be the next big driver of business and economic growth. But opportunity is a double-edged sword; those who miss it could well lose out to those who take advantage. Evidence is mounting that businesses, regions, and nations that move to and embrace clean energy are indeed pulling ahead of their competitors in the global marketplace. Witness the hybrid vehicle market. Toyota now dominates the industry having shipped more than 200,000 hybrids in 2005 and licensing its hybrid technology to the likes of Ford. Toyota was the only major automaker to increase its year-to-year U.S. sales when gasoline prices hit record highs in October 2005. By early next decade, the company plans to have at least 10 hybrid models on the road and is targeting annual global sales of one million hybrid vehicles. Toyota now has a market capitalization ten times that of General Motors. General Electric (GE) is taking note as well. GE, the world's largest diversified manufacturer, recently launched the "Ecomagination" business strategy in which it committed to doubling its investments in clean technologies by 2010. Revenues from the company's wind energy division now exceed $2 billion annually and the company is targeting up to $1 billion in yearly revenue from its solar division by the end of the decade. "Ecomagination is GE's commitment to address challenges such as the need for cleaner, more efficient sources of energy, reduced emissions and abundant sources of clean water," says GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. "And we plan to make money doing it. Increasingly for business, 'green' is green." And in Brazil, nothing short of an automotive revolution is taking shape. The nation now represents nearly half of global ethanol production -- pumping out more than 4 billion gallons of sugar-cane based fuel in 2005. Flex fuel vehicles capable of running on E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent petrol gasoline) have grown from just 6 percent of Brazil's new car market in 2003 to an impressive 70 percent plus of the new car market in 2005. The clean-energy "long boom" knows no geographical boundaries. The U.S. has a choice to either embrace and lead in this brave new world of clean energy and clean tech innovation, like it has done in many earlier tech revolutions, or fall behind a host of competitors in Europe, Asia, and beyond. As we point out in this year's report, the growth has been nothing short of astounding -- representing expansion rates akin to the personal computer revolution during its more than 20 year growth heyday. Back in 2000, the markets for solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind power represented annual global revenues of $2.5 billion and $4 billion, respectively. Both have quadrupled to more than $11 billion annually today. In this year's Clean Energy Trends publication, Clean Edge reports that ethanol and biodiesel hit $15.7 billion globally in 2005 and are projected to grow to $52.5 billion by 2015. We project that markets for solar photovoltaics (modules, system components, and installations) will grow from $11.2 billion in 2005 to $51.1 billion by 2015; wind power installations will expand from $11.8 billion last year to $48.5 billion in 2015; and fuel cells and distributed hydrogen will grow from $1.2 billion in 2005 to $15.1 billion by 2015. Clean Edge, in collaboration with Nth Power, a leading energy-tech venture firm, also released Nth Power's annual energy-tech venture data. This year's findings show that venture capital investors poured $917 million, an increase of approximately 28 percent from 2004, into more than 80 private companies. These investments, primarily in distributed energy, energy intelligence, power reliability, advanced materials and nanotechnology, and related services, represented more than 4 percent of the $21.7 billion U.S. venture capital market, up from less than 1 percent of the venture market in 1999. Global electricity and transportation fuels represent multi-trillion dollar markets -- two of the largest industries on the planet. Combine that with significant technological advances in solar, wind and biofuels; China and India's insatiable appetite for expansion; large corporate and venture investments; and the instability of foreign-based fossil fuel supplies (to name just a few key drivers), and we believe we are positioned for a long boom in clean-energy technologies. It won't be an easy road ahead. Change never is