After you take time to appreciate your family and Thanksgiving feast, start easing your mind back into the world of renewable energy, climate change and green technologies with these ten things in greentech to be thankful for this year. In addition to these ten trends and events, of course, we’re thankful for our insightful readers. So we hope you’ll share in the comments section the things in greentech that are worth your thanks in 2009.
- Unprecedented Levels of Government Funding: Uncle Sam has changed the financing game for green energy startups this year, investing in very early-stage, high-risk technologies (through the ARPA-E program) that traditionally wouldn’t attract much venture capital interest. The government has also backed projects of such massive scale and scope in the smart grid buildout that they will create a snowball effect, delivering market opportunities directly and indirectly for many more new firms selling consulting services, software, networking devices and consumer electronics. David Anthony, founding partner of 21Ventures, told us this summer, “There’s more money allocated to cleantech in the stimulus package, than there’s probably going to be invested by venture capitalists in North American cleantech startups over the next three years combined.”
- Secretary Chu Putting the Pedal to the Metal: Not long after Secretary Steven Chu took the helm at the Department of Energy, he said he wanted to get long-overdue green car loan awards moving out the door ASAP for the 3-year-old, $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program. The agency announced the three awards, for Ford, Nissan and Tesla Motors four months later, and this fall made additional commitments to Fisker Automotive and Tenneco.
- Big Business Taking a Stand for Climate Policy: Several large companies have sought to distance themselves from the climate policy stance of the Chamber of Commerce, which has called limits on greenhouse gas emissions “a job killer.” Utilities including California’s PG&E have said they will let their membership lapse at the end of this year and Nike has stepped down from the chamber’s board, while Apple took the more aggressive step last month of resigning its membership, effective immediately. The company said it “supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions,” and finds the chamber “at odds” with that effort.
- Finally Reviving the Electric Car: Delays and dropped projects have previously marked efforts to produce mainstream electric vehicles. But plug-in car makers including Nissan and General Motors are finally hitting a groove and say they are on schedule to deliver vehicles in 2010.
- Grid Storage Getting Its Due: A next-generation smart grid without energy storage, as Katie has noted, is like a computer without a hard drive: severely limited. Yet over the past few years energy storage technology has been largely overlooked or flat-out ignored as entrepreneurs, investors and utilities have focused on clean power generation like solar and wind. That’s changing, however. By 2018, the global market for grid-connected applications for lithium-ion batteries alone is set to grow to $1.1 billion, according to Pike Research. In addition to venture capital activity in energy storage. And on Tuesday the DOE announced 16 grants for a total of $185 million in smart grid stimulus funds for energy storage projects.
- High Profile Investors Finding Greentech: Whether its Warren Buffet’s investment in Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD, George Soros’ $1 billion greentech invesment plans, or Richard Branson’s Virgin green fund and carbon abatement contest, here’s thanks to mainstream investors realizing there’s money to made in greentech.
- Dealing With Battery Material Crunch Now: The U.S. imports most of its lithium from Chile and Argentina, while Bolivia has enough deposits to become a major lithium provider. And if there’s a shortage of a second resource — a group of metals known as rare earth elements, used in nickel metal hydride batteries — it could potentially drive up the costs of hybrid cars. Battery and auto makers thankfully have started paying more attention this year to the possibility of a future squeeze on lithium or rare earth elements. So if widespread adoption of electric vehicles could mean weaning vehicles off of imported oil and getting them hooked on imported minerals for batteries, that outcome now seems likely get cut off at the pass.
- Dematerialization via Digital Goods: While most of us are starting to buy digital goods, like music and books, simply because it’s increasingly convenient to consume them on laptops and handheld gadgets, research out this year shows that digital goods have a smaller footprint than their physical counterparts. According to this report an e-reader like the Kindle can displace the buying of about 22.5 physical books per year, and thus deliver an estimated savings of 168 kg of CO2 per year.
- Recycling is Suddenly Sexy: We don’t usually see recycling as much of a money saver for big ticket consumer electronics. But for plug-in cars — overgrown consumer electronics in many ways — Nissan is betting that recycling the battery could be one of the keys to reducing cost. The idea also surfaced in the inaugural policy paper from the new Electrification Coalition, which counts Nissan among its 13 members and this month urged regulators to establish a minimum residual value for large-format automotive batteries, potentially smoothing the way for battery leasing and recycling.
- The Dramatic Reduction in Solar Prices: For solar system installations in the U.S., the average cost before financial incentives plummeted 30 percent between 1998 and 2008, to $7.50 per watt last year from $10.80 per watt a decade earlier, according to a report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Prices continued to fall this past year, and the research firm New Energy Finance predicted this week that by the end of 2009 overall solar costs (including solar panels, inverters, labor and more) will drop 50 percent compared to the end of 2008, thanks to capital markets opening up and a decline in equipment costs.
Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.