What is Cleantech?
Historically the term ‘Cleantech’, or clean technology, was popularised in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, by venture capitalist investors who were looking to benefit from companies that specialised in developing environmentally friendly technologies.
Since then it has evolved to define a business sector that refers to products, services or processes that help reduce the environmental impact on the planet and includes renewable technology, water and waste, transportation and agriculture industries.
In 2017, worldwide investment in clean technology was at $279.6bn and the industry is expected to be worth $1.3tn by 2020. In 2015 the Paris Agreement saw practically every nation in the world pledge to address the threat of climate change and help to halt the increase in the global average temperature of no more than 2 degree Celsius. Cleantech has a major role to play in the agreement with many of the more polluting nations utilising its benefits to ensure they meet the required targets.
Rising fossil fuel prices and the threatening impacts of climate change have encouraged an economic and social shift in the development of renewable and clean technologies which are becoming more affordable for consumers and developing nations. However, it is thought that the adoption of these technologies is slow with a need for a more integrated approach considering all clean technologies to truly be effective in reducing the burden on resources and reduce the effects of climate change.
Types of Cleantech
Solar power technology converts the energy from the sun into a sustainable power source. The most common form of solar power is created using photovoltaics (PV) panels. PV panels are used to heat water and generate electricity for domestic use or on a larger scale for utilities power generation. There are great incentives for using solar power including reducing energy bills, benefiting from government feed-in tariff schemes and cutting your carbon footprint.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) the global use of Solar PV technology as a form of power generation has increased by 34% in 2017. The cost of large scale solar systems has reduced in cost by as much as 70% in the past eight years and the industry will continue to see falls in prices as competition increases and manufacturing capacity grows, particularly in the biggest adopters of PV solar in China and South East Asia.
Wind turbines are used to create and store electricity for use in homes and businesses by harnessing the power of the wind. A wind turbine works by using large blades to catch the wind which forces them to turn and drive a turbine to generate electricity.
Wind power, like solar, has several benefits both to the environment and the consumer, providing financial incentives to the consumer, whilst cutting their carbon footprint and producing no greenhouse gas emissions during operation, consumes no water and uses minimal space on land. As well as on land, wind turbines can also be constructed off-shore where wind speeds are higher.
The cost of off-shore wind farms has historically been very high due to construction and maintenance, but these have been decreasing rapidly in recent years because of technology advances, mass production and government incentives.
The IEA report that in 2016 wind power accounted for almost 4% of global electricity generation. By 2022, global on-shore wind generated electricity will grow by 80% with off-shore wind generation also expected to grow rapidly. China, Europe, India and the US leading the way in the use of this technology.
Planes, trains and automobiles all contribute to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and global warming effects. In 2014, the transport sector contributed 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Development of transport technology is accelerating fast, mainly focused on reducing emissions, from autonomous vehicles, all electric cars and zero emission haulage trucks to name a few. In 2017 London introduced a new T-charge for older vehicles that don’t meet European emissions standards in addition to the congestion charge in a bid to further reduce air pollution in the city.
And this is where one entrant in this year’s Go:Tech Awards focusses its business model. Avid Technology ‘designs and manufactures electrified powertrain components for heavy-duty and high performance electric and hybrid vehicles’. Helping to improve energy consumption and reduce vehicle emissions to make transport more sustainable.
The world’s population continues to grow with over seven billion people living on the planet. This number of humans is having a massive impact on our resources, land availability, biodiversity conservation and global warming. Agriculture is one industry that is viewed by many as a major contributor to the negative impacts on the environment, yet the technological solutions that are available to farmers are underutilised.
Some forms of CleanTech have emerged to provide opportunities for the agriculture industry to try and stem the environmental impact. The use of Genetically Modified crops, although a contentious issue, is a way of increasing the yield of crops whilst reducing the use of pesticides and fuel use.
Precision Farming is a concept of using positioning systems, commonly GPS, with unmanned remote devices, infrared technology and smart sensors to be able to accurately manage variations in land conditions to grow more food using fewer resources at a lower cost. The introduction of collecting and analysing data about the cultivating environment also allows farmers to manage crops more effectively to improve sustainability, productivity and environmental protection. As these technologies develop, Precision Farming is becoming more cost effective and easier for farmers to use.
The future of CleanTech
CleanTech has had an eventful past but many are saying the future looks bright for the industry. More, now than ever, there is a real need for clean technology. The world needs to develop technologies that help us to use natural resources more effectively or find renewable and sustainable alternatives.
There have been failures, but every industry sees failures in some form or another, but recent investment, particularly from large tech firms like Telsa, Facebook, Google and Microsoft show there is a market for better CleanTech. Costs are dropping, there is a real global demand and adoption is increasing. There is a sense that we all need to do something more to tackle the rise in global temperatures, become more aware of what the future may look like and how CleanTech can be used to stop it.