For all the hype about the New Economy the irrationally exuberant e-world that is now getting its comeuppancea real, and sustainable, new new economy is emerging. It is based not on ephemeral (and dubious) products and services, but on providing clean energy, clean transportation, clean water, and other goods and services that embody the principles of industrial ecology, resource productivity, and natural capitalism.
This is no mere recasting of the seventies' Appropriate Technology movement so familiar to the Whole Earth community. The new clean-tech era is represented by a diverse and dispersed corps of companies, from start-ups to multinational giants, with support from forward-thinking investors, researchers, politicians, and customers. A recent sampling:
· Solar photovoltaics are on track to become the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in the US. Experts predict photovoltaics will grow by nearly 20 percent a year for the next two decades, though some believe that's conservative.
· Wind power is growing even faster, with Germany leading the way, outstripping the world's next-largest producer, the US, almost threefold. But the US is poised to regain
the lead, according to Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein investment bank, which predicts that, worldwide, wind energy generation will rise more than tenfold between now and 2010.
· Governments are committing to renewable energy. The European Union wants a fifth of all electricity to come from renewables by 2010. Japan produced 80 megawatts of new solar power generating capacity last year?enough to power 80,000 average US homes, or more than 130,000 Japanese households. Japan is now the world's leading producer of photovoltaic cells. Multilateral organizations are making significant commitments to renewables and other clean technologies in the developing world.
· Iceland, which already produces all of its heating and electricity from geothermal and hydroelectric plants, aims to become the world's first hydrogen-based economy, the test bed for a new generation of vehicles and buildings run on fuel cells powered by an element as plentiful as water. It's goal: eliminate petroleum use by 2030.
· The list of clean-vehicle initiatives is breath-taking, as the oil and automotive sectors at last embrace the future. Clean tech, like politics, can make for strange bedfellows. For example, General Motors and Toyota are teaming with ExxonMobil to produce a clean hydrocarbon fuel in the short to medium term. Meanwhile, everyone from Buick to BMW is touting their upcoming hybrid or fuel-cell vehicles, putting a dozen or more smaller firms making clean-tech engine components squarely in investors' sights.
· Ensuring adequate supplies of clean water has become big business. Biological purification systems, once the domain of alternative lifestylers, can be found adjacent to factories and inside cities. US water recycling and reuse is projected to quadruple by 2020, according to Group Triton, a water-industry analyst. Orange County, California, is building the world's largest water-reuse plant to maintain a sustainable water supply for its growing population. Last year, amid a depressing market, water stocks handily outperformed the Nasdaq and S&P indices.
· Companies and investors now pour millions into "green chemistry," products and processes that are increasingly benign from the standpoint of stock efficiencies, energy use, human health, and the environment. Biobased products, from carpets to car parts, produced from agricultural wastes and other carbohydrate-based materials have become mainstream.
A market study by Kline & Co. forecast an annual 15- to 25-percent increase in demand for agricultural fibers in automotive applications?from vegetable-based engine oils to flax straw used in dashboards?and annual increases of 60 percent in building products from construction panels made of sugar cane residue to ceiling panels made of strawboard. McDonald's is investing McMillions in a sandwich container made from limestone, potato starch, and cellulose.
It's important to understand that many of these technologies have huge hurdles to clear before they become profitable, mainstream businesses. Hydro-gen takes electricity to produce, not to mention distribute, making it far from benign. Many renewable-energy technologies remain uncompetitive with fossil fuels, due to huge government subsidies for the latter. But even that's changing: in California's sky-high energy market, wind energy is now cost-competitive with oil and coal.
The contrast between the new new economy of clean tech and the "old" New Economy couldn't be greater. The Internet economy is fickle and maybe ephemeral. Billions have been spent trying to invent products for which there is little proven demand. On the other hand, most clean-tech applications address markets for existing and essential goods and services including morally pressing problems as diverse as climate change and infant mortality. Unlike the Net, which was largely US-centric during its development and early boom, the clean-tech marketplace is truly global. Clean-tech markets for many goods and services have developed first in the Third World, where they can help fast-growing economies leapfrog old-paradigm, polluting technologies.
All told, it's a longer-term business opportunity whose potential is far greater than the Internet's. The greatest business opportunity on the planet today may be how to provide clean water, energy, and transportation to the nearly four billion people more than half the planet who earn on average less than $1,500 a year and who lack basic necessities. Silicon Valley venture capital magnate John Doerr has dubbed clean water, transportation, and energy "the big markets of the future."
Much like the e-biz revolution, there will be winners and losers, and more than a little carnage among companies and entrepreneurs competing for a slice of the clean-tech pie. But there's plenty to suggest that clean technology will engender a more sustainable economic revolution for business, the planet, and all of its denizens.
For those who wish to invest in clean-tech stocks, they can trade directly on the open market (fuel cell and solar stocks are, by far, the hottest segments right now). They can set up their own basket of clean-tech stocks using a service like foliofn.com or invest in clean-tech mutual funds like New Alternatives Fund (www.newalternativesfund.com). For other Web sites devoted to clean-tech products or investments, see waterinvestments.com, h2fc.com, SolarAccess.com, and evWorld.com.
Clean Edge Access
Sometimes our readers sigh as the "alternative" goals they desire actually go mainstream. Organic food, for instance, is a big and booming multinational business. Clean Edge takes the emergent good stuff and adds market intelligence, research services, and strategic consulting services. Want to know if a technology will work? if it's worth investing in what the competition is which businesses are involved. Need company news ("GreenVolt Purchases Facility for Alkaline Fuel Cell Unit Production"), or trends ("China Shifts to Gas on Security Fears"), or analysis ("Taking Stock in Fuel Cells")? Their Web site (up and running by end of April) will track clean-tech stock movements and offer a free e-mail newsletter. Their report, "Clean Tech: Profits and Potential," can be downloaded from the Web site.
Select Clean-Tech Web Sites
American Bioenergy Association
American Wind Energy Association
Green Energy News
Green Power Network
Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Inv stor
Rocky Mountain Institute
Sustainable Energy Coalition
Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas
Innovative Transportation Technologies
Water Environment Federation
Bio/Environmentally Degradable Polymer Society
Carbohydrate Economy Clearinghouse
Consortium on Green Design and Manufacturing
Green Chemistry Program
International Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse
Zero Waste Research Institute