Dec. 6, 2012
Antenna Group is the nation's largest clean technology public relations firm, representing companies in sectors including renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative fuels, energy storage, finance, waste management and water. Here, drawn from input provided by our client-partners, is Antenna's list of the top 10 cleantech trends to watch in 2013. According to these trends, 2013 is shaping up to be a year of consolidation, with many innovations from years past gaining mainstream acceptance.
1. "Plug-and-Play" Solar
The biggest trend in solar is the integration of inverters (the component of a solar system that converts DC power to AC power) and racking systems with solar panels. Instead of being manufactured as separate components, panels, inverters and racking systems are now being manufactured as a single plug-and-play unit. This helps keep manufacturing costs down as well as substantially reducing installation, implementation and operating costs.
GTL Technologies Take Off Domestically
Last year we cited the mainstreaming of gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies, which transform natural gas into liquid transportation fuels such as gasoline and jet fuel, as one of the top 10 trends as a result of the completion of Shell's giant "Pearl" GTL plant in
. This year, we are seeing that trend beginning to take off domestically with the increased availability of low cost natural gas and new technologies that are making GTL more cost-effective and efficient.
The Military Steps Up
-- Despite the heat drawn by the military for its investment in alternative fuels, that investment has demonstrated the feasibility of such fuels and highlighted their importance to energy security. The motivation behind the Navy's "Great Green Fleet," for instance, is to reduce vulnerability to oil supply interruptions, not economics, the Pentagon has said. Look for more green initiatives as even the strongest opponents realize that renewables could be the military's secret weapon.
4. Sustainable Products
– "I just want to say one word to you -- just one word,"
was told in the movie, "The Graduate." That word was "plastics." Today it would be bioplastics. Just as a range of biofuels can be made from biomass, so can a range of substitutes for petroleum-based chemicals, including paints, coatings, plastics, lubricants, synthetic rubbers and cosmetics. The increased use of such products can be expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, toxic byproducts and disposal problems.
Increased Incidence of "Electrotrophobia"
-- Electrotrophobia is the name given by a former
regulator to the fear of change caused by greater reliance on intermittent sources of energy such as solar and wind. Faced with load management and reliability issues due to the fact that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine, utilities are investing in smart grid technologies that will improve the integration of renewables at the transmission, distribution and end-user levels.
Corporations Get Religion
-- In the past many corporate sustainability initiatives could be categorized as "greenwashing" -- pursued largely for their public relations value. But greenwashing is now giving way to a true commitment to sustainability as the financial case for sustainability gains buy-in the C-suite, as well as among employees, customers, investors and stakeholders. Now needed: sophisticated tools for the measurement and reporting of sustainability performance.
New Financing Models for Energy-Efficiency Retrofits
-- Buildings consume about 70 percent of the nation's electricity, but only a small percentage of commercial property owners have invested in energy efficiency retrofits. Third-party financing offers the potential to scale such investment. Under a financing model called an Energy Services Agreement (ESA), a lender funds the cost of improvements, pays the electric bill and charges the owner back at historic rates, earning a return via the energy savings.
– On a related note, energy benchmarking allows owners of commercial properties to compare data on a building's energy usage to that of similar buildings. In an effort to increase the energy efficiency of older buildings, several large cities have implemented energy benchmarking ordinances. While there is typically no financial penalty for low scores, the perception of a low-scoring building as being less desirable to tenants is a strong motivator for landlords to make capital improvements.
Virtual Net Metering
-- In many states, solar systems are restricted to generating electricity for the buildings at which they are installed. But new policy initiatives are encouraging virtual net metering (VNM) provisions under which solar power can be used by a group of buildings under a single jurisdiction. The power generated at a school, for instance, can also be used by the police station and the fire department. Look for VNM to accelerate the adoption of solar, especially for public buildings.
10. Emerging Countries Take the Lead:
Economic exigencies are compelling many emerging countries to adopt renewables.
, faced with a finite supply of oil, is looking to meet 30 percent of its energy needs with solar by 2032. Similarly,
has set a goal of meeting 42 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2020; and the state of
, a territory of
, relies almost completely on solar. Look for more emerging countries to leapfrog over fossil fuel-based economies.
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