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Renewable Energy Trends Illuminated in Clean Edge’s Market Report

The clean energy industry’s performance over the past year can be seen as a classic good news-bad news situation, according to the experts at Clean Energy, a research and advisory firm devoted to the clean-tech sector. The industry saw dazzling growth, success, and rising stock prices in some sectors – most notably solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment – but downward trends and policy and finance hurdles in others.

The report begins by pointing to the increase in solar PV adoption over the globe and notes that 2013 was the first time in history that global solar installations (36.5 GW) were greater than global wind power installations (35.5 GW). Wind had its weakest year since 2008, the report said.

Clean Edge believes this is a trend that will continue, predicting that solar PV will experience double-digit growth in capacity year upon year and that by 2023 revenue growth in the PV industry will be $158.4 billion despite that fact that installed prices will continue to fall. The report authors predict an installed PV system price as low at $1.21 per watt by 2023. Over the same period, wind will see modest expansion with a revenue growth prediction of $93.8 billion by 2023.

Clean Energy Trends also tracks biofuels deployment. “We project that the global markets for both ethanol and biodiesel will grow an average 4.5 percent annually over the next decade, reaching a combined $145.6 billion in 2023, with biodiesel prices falling and ethanol pricing remaining fairly stable,” it said.

Trends for 2014

In the 2014 Clean Energy Trends Report, Clean Edge showcases five trends to watch for the coming year. For the first time, this year the authors looked at green building and electric and hybrid vehicles. Since 2000, these sectors have experienced compound annual growth rates of 68.9 percent and 38 percent respectively, according to Clean Edge.

The first trend to keep an eye on is in the utility sector.  Clean Edge believes that in 2014 we will start to see “enlightened utilities begin to embrace distributed generation assets.” As rooftop solar continues its steady march towards adoption, utilities will continue to grapple with how to maintain healthy businesses in the face of declining electricity sales. “Some forward-looking utilities, if not fully embracing a distributed energy future, are making investments, forming partnerships, and acknowledging that the threat of DG might also be a business opportunity,” the report states.  Clean Edge points to some examples of this that took place in 2013, such as Edison International’s purchase of SoCore Energy, a Chicago-based rooftop solar developer that does work in the commercial space. It also uses Duke Energy’s investment in Clean Power Finance as another example of utilities starting to think about profiting from distributed PV. 

This type of movement in the utility sector is taking place in Europe and Asia, too, said Clean Edge. German utility RWE is leading this transition by overhauling its entire business model while in Japan, a country that installed 7 GW of PV in 2013, consumers are seeking technological solutions to their energy woes in a post-Fukushima world. “The country already has some 30,000 homeowners who use fuel cells like Panasonic’s Ene-Farm to generate power on site,” said Clean Edge.

Energy storage is also mentioned as something to keep an eye on and the report said that consumer-sited battery technology is comparable to where PV was in the early 2000s with some early adopters already onboard.

This disruption in the utility sector will have a huge impact on regulators, said Clean Edge. The report quotes former FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff saying that regulators will need to change from being rate setters for monopoly markets to become rule setters for competitive markets.

Cities Spearheading Change

Interestingly, the 2014 Clean Energy Trends report explains that cities are now starting to take leadership roles in the transition to a low-carbon economy as a way to buffer themselves against the devastating effects of disasters caused, at least in part, by climate change.  New York, Seattle, Copenhagen, Sydney and others are showcased in the report as setting initiatives that seek to lower carbon emissions within their city limits. 

Many of those low-carbon initiatives center around the building sector, and Clean Edge predicts a rise in net-zero energy buildings in the coming years.  The report points to several high-profile net-zero energy buildings that have been erected over the past two years and said that these buildings are raising awareness and helping to prove the net-zero concept. 

Although skeptics may contend that examples of net zero buildings are isolated, that will change dramatically in coming years. The European Union has mandated that all new public buildings must achieve “nearly zero” energy status by the end of 2018, and that all other new buildings achieve the same status by the end of 2020.

The marriage of clean tech and the Internet is creating a growing “cleanweb” sector and this is another trend to watch according to Clean Edge.  The cleanweb is essentially the use of big data and the Internet to manage resources more efficiently or deploy renewable energy.  Everything from ridesharing to financing large-scale renewable energy projects is part of the clean web. Venture Capitalists are paying close attention to this sector as well as we pointed out in our 2014 Renewable Energy Finance Outlook.

Finally the report shows the growing interest in vertical farming. Clean Edge authors believe that as the world population grows vertical farming will become more and more mainstream.  This is the last of its five trends.

The full 24-page Clean Energy Trends 2014 report can be downloaded for free at the Clean Edge website.

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Jennifer Runyon is chief editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com and Renewable Energy World magazine, coordinating, writing and/or editing columns, features, news stories and blogs for the publications. She also serves as conference chair of Renewable ...

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