Five Trends to Watch in the Renewable Energy Industry

Growth in the renewable energy industry is set to reach more than US $250 billion by the year 2017 with the electric car, sustainable cities, non-U.S.-based energy firms, geothermal energy and the greening of the shipping industry helping to lead the way. That’s the prediction made by Clean Edge in its Clean Energy Trends 2008 report released on Wednesday.

The report’s co-authors Joel Makower, Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder spotlighted the biofuels, wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV) and fuel cell markets as the benchmark segments for the renewable energy industry as a whole. Worldwide in 2007 the biofuels market reached US $25.4 billion, 40 percent of which came from the U.S., the wind market rose to US $30.1 billion. The market for solar PV grew to US $20.3 billion and the emerging fuel cell market, still dominated by R&D, totaled US $1.5 billion in revenue in 2007. Watch for more on the report from Ron Pernick on in two weeks.

The report put the spotlight on five trends to watch as renewable energy industry surges ahead. The first was the new structure taking shape in the electric vehicle market where startups are taking center stage. In a presentation about the trends, Joel Makeower said that there are currently 200 U.S. companies working, in some way, shape or form, on bringing the electric car to market.

According to the report, “the new generation of green vehicles may not be driven by Detroit or its Euro or Asian counterparts. A growing line of start-ups is rendering moot the question of ‘Who killed the electric car?’ While the global car companies go through years-long retooling to create plug-in hybrids, electric cars, and other alt-fuel vehicles, these start-ups are beating the big guys to market, delivering greener cars to a waiting public.”

These startups include Scandanavian company Think, Tesla, Project Better Place/Renault-Nissan in Israel, Eliica from Japan, Miles and ZAP in the U.S., REVA in India, ZENN in Canda, Spark in China and Venturi in France.

The second trend to watch according to Clean Edge is the movement toward sustainable cities, including the new Masdar City in Abu Dhabi a city that plans, by 2016, to serve a population 50,000 individuals and 1,500 businesses all powered by solar energy. Another emerging eco-city is Dongtan, on Chongming Island near Shanghai, which plans to serve 20,000 people by 2010 and be powered completely by renewables, mostly wind and biomass. The report also points to major efforts being made around the world to “green” established cities.

Third in the series of trends is the growing presence of overseas companies in the U.S. wind energy market, a trend that will continue to grow according to the Clean Edge report as the dollar remains relatively weak and the demand for wind in the U.S. continues to grow.

Geothermal energy’s return to the main stage is the fourth trend to watch. According to the report, “geothermal is the only clean-energy resource besides hydroelectric that provides baseload power 24 hours a day, and with average plant uptime of 98 percent, it does so even more reliably than nuclear or coal-fired power plants, both of which require more downtime for maintenance.”

The co-authors noted that three of California’s largest investor-owned utilities, PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric, within the past year have announced new geothermal plans. This comes as no surprise as average geothermal electric costs are between 4-7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

And finally, the fifth trend is a building movement to make shipping by sea more environmentally friendly. Driven more by the major shippers worldwide (the presenters mentioned IKEA, Home Depot, and Toyota), than the shipping companies themselves, the idea is to lessen the negative impact that cargo ships currently put on the environment. In the report, the co-authors point out that cargo ships account for more than 4 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions, double the emissions of aviation, according to a study commissioned by the UN’s International Maritime Organization.

Companies that are developing technologies to propel ships without greenhouse gas emissions are gaining ground. Kite for Sail, KiteShip and Sky Sails, all of whom are working on designing kites that, when combined with better navigation tools and software will allow large ships to use the wind for propulsion.


Sky Sails kite technology is one of Clean Edge’s
five renewable energy trends to watch


The report said that “given that shipping emissions, left unchecked, are forecast to grow 30 percent from current levels by 2020, such technologies could be a breath of fresh air.” 
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Former Editor at, now Assistant Counsel at the New York State Department of Public Service, regulating New York's electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries.

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