Let’s face it: For cleantech, at least in the U.S., this year was kind of a bummer. I just read MIT Tech Review’s Year in Energy post and I got depressed. But that’s what New Year’s resolutions and wishes are for: turning a new page when the year starts over.
And now that we’re getting close to the end of 2011, it’s that time to ponder what we want and need from an industry so crucial to global economics and sustainability, but continuing to struggle in various ways.
Here’s what I want from cleantech in 2012:
1. Goodbye to Solyndra. It’s time for the fog of bankrupt solar company Solyndra to clear. Yes, there could still be findings from any hearings or more auctions, and since Solyndra has turned into a political issue, it will still rear its ugly head in the run up to the elections. But any lessons that could be learned from Solyndra have already happened, and anything left over is just a distraction at this point. Let’s kill this beast.
2. Cleantech reframed as national security. The debate over climate change and green jobs shouldn’t be a debate. But it has become a partisan political issue, so continues to be something that a vocal group fight against. As GigaOM Pro’s Green IT analyst Adam Lesser wrote earlier this year, climate change and green jobs need to be reframed as a national security issue, to win over American support. It is a political mistake to sell renewable energy as a jobs solution and in the end, it’s all about marketing.
3. Clean water gets its due. Clean water startups have long been talked about as the next hot area in cleantech. But these companies never seem to get all that much attention from investors and the media alike. ZDNet recently posted an article on 12 clean water startups to watch in 2012. I’m hoping 2012 is the year of clean water, now that countries like India — that need massive amounts of clean water — are showing themselves to be huge potential cleantech markets.
4. Electric cars meet expectations. The hype of 2011 being a break out market for electric cars was a curse and a blessing. Both the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt were launched this year and largely didn’t meet expectations, mostly thanks to production issues. Do we need to change our expectations and get more realistic, or do the car companies need to step it up in 2012?
There will likely be more disappointing electric car plans in 2012; as long as their are startups making incredulous claims, there will be money lost and a backlash against EVs. But I’m looking forward to a few launches next year, particularly the one for Tesla’s Model S. Tesla says it will be on time and will deliver the EV you want to buy.
5. Solar investing trickles down. While the solar market has been marked by falling profits and controversial federal government loans in 2011, one bright spot in the year was the growth of investors putting money into installing solar panels on the rooftops of homes and and small commercial buildings. Banks were more than eager to put money into funds for financing companies like SunRun and Sungevity, and Google stepped up to put almost a billion dollars into clean power projects.
In 2012, though, I’d like to see that urge to invest in solar trickle down to the more common investor — like more corporations and even citizens. Some analysts I’ve talked with think Google was just the first of the corporations that will use its balance sheet to get the relatively low risk, potentially 12 percent or more, return that a solar rooftop can deliver over a decade plus period. A company called Solar Mosaic — the kickstarter of solar — is looking to one day offer regular people ways to invest in solar roofs and provide a return, the same way you would invest in, say, a mutual fund.
6. Nest takes off. I would love for the smart learning thermostat company Nest to have a break through product with its uniquely-designed digital thermostat. If the company can get more than just the early adopters in Silicon Valley to care about using the thermostat to cut 20 to 30 percent of
their home energy consumption, then the company could make a real dent in the U.S. energy equation.
7. Nuclear freeze warms up. Thanks to the Fukushima disaster, nuclear plant projects and potential innovation and investments in nuclear technology stalled at the end of 2011. I think that’s a mistake. The world needs a safe form of nuclear power as a base load carbon-free power generation option. Some of the companies still innovating in this space are nuclear waste cleanup company Kurion, and traveling wave nuclear company TerraPower.
8. Green data centers are the de facto choice. 2011 saw the thought-leader companies like Google and Facebook invest in energy-efficient and clean-powered data centers. But many more companies need to adopt these standard, and some not-so-standard, practices to help reduce the overall power consumption of the Internet. If everyone acted like Google in 2012, we’d be in good shape.
9. Utilities get more aggressive, move faster. OK, this probably will never happen, but smart grid deployments and home energy technology take years to pilot and deploy. If there were better state and federal incentives for utilities to install this technology, then it would happen much more quickly. Is 2012 the year that this could happen?
10. Find a new system for the broken COPs. The United Nation’s climate change negotiations take place every year in a new city, and negotiators try to get countries to make pledges to reduce carbon emissions by a certain amount. To date, these meetings haven’t seemed to work, and in recent years have seemed to be even more counter productive. Here’s calling for some sort of new system for 2012.
Image courtesy of Rob Boudon.