Clean Energy 2010 Trending Up

Last year around this time, clean tech research and publishing firm Clean Edge predicted we’d be talking about flat or even downward clean energy revenue trends in 2009. However, the report the firm issued today, Clean Energy Trends 2010, shows that combined global revenue for three major clean-energy sectors –- solar photovoltaics (PV), wind power and biofuels -– grew by 11.4 percent over 2008, reaching $139.1 billion.

Given the state of the economy, “this reported 11.4 percent increase in global revenues is quite remarkable,” said Ron Pernick, Clean Edge co-founder, managing director and co-author of the report, on a conference call.  Clint Wilder, senior editor at Clean Edge and report co-author, was also on the call.

In another good sign for the clean energy sector, the Clean Energy Trends 2010 report shows that even though U.S.-based VC investments in energy technologies declined a whopping 31% — from $3.2 billion in 2008 to $2.2 billion in 2009 — clean energy’s percentage of total U.S. VC investments rose to an all-time high of 12.5% percent of total activity in 2009. “So while total investments were down for the first time in 7 years, the total percentage [invested] represented the largest share in the history of the clean-energy asset class,” said Pernick.

China, China, China

The Clean Energy Trends 2010 report also points to five trends in renewable energy that the authors believe are worth watching in the coming year.

The trends, which are detailed in the report, are as follows:

  • Carbon as a Feedstock
  • Steep PV Price Drops
  • Biomass for Utilities and District Heating
  • Clean-Tech Megaprojects
  • High Speed Rail (HSR)

In 3 of the 5 trends, China figures prominently. The country is the world’s largest PV cell manufacturer and is a contributing factor in lower PV module pricing due to its low-cost production scale. 

China has announced some of the largest wind and solar “megaprojects” in the past year, including a 2-GW First Solar PV Farm in Inner Mongolia and the 2 GW of CSP towers that eSolar is building. China remains a close second to the U.S. lead in installed wind power capacity.  It seems likely that wind “megaprojects” will be announced in China in the near future. And in high-speed rail, the country intends to install 10,000 miles of dedicated HSR by 2020.  According to the report, there will be more high-speed rail built in China over the next five years than the rest of the world combined.

While the authors point out that the real advances in biomass are coming out of Europe, Pernick said he wouldn’t be surprised if China would start making advances in that sector, too.

With all of those factors at play, the report authors don’t believe that China is the only country to watch for clean energy advancements.  

“It’s too early to declare China the de facto winner,” said Pernick. 

He pointed to the fact that the breadth and complexity of clean tech will touch all countries and said that he doesn’t think one country will be able to emerge as a clear dominant player. He also said that China might find it increasingly difficult to grow clean tech “off the backs of polluted water, air and products.” Finally, he added that the cultural and political forces at play in the country might make it difficult to foster entrepreneurship and innovation.

The report also examines many of the other issues shaping the clean-energy marketplace, including the failure of nations to reach a global climate accord in Copenhagen and the growing ubiquity and declining cost of clean-energy technologies. An IPO Watch List tracks clean-technology companies that have recently filed for IPOs, as well as other likely candidates.

The report can be downloaded free of charge at Clean Edge.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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