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Heads up investors, job seekers and business journalists! Despite the dizzying political posturing and media coverage, not all sectors of the green tech industry will be major growth stories in the next five years. To help guide your allocation of resources, the GreenTechBuyer team has assembled our list of the three market segments most likely to sprout from their 2011 roots to a flourishing eco-system in 2015. We’ll tell you why too.
Solar, wind and bio-fuel companies are already kicked into high gear with best and brightest spending gobs of government and VC money racing to achieve ‘grid parity’. What’s often overlooked is the fundamental shift in energy distribution models that will accompany this renewable energy revolution, and that utility companies are desperately avoiding the expense of creating new power plants using coal or nuclear power to meet increased energy demand. The immediate need is to reduce load and build out infrastructure for when renewable energy is the rule, not the exception.
So, in no particular order:
1. Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging: Continuing the mainstream use of vehicles that burn fossil fuels to power their engines is a smoggy and increasingly expensive global proposition. Natural gas powered vehicles are a viable stop-gap that burn a cleaner, cheaper and more readily available resource while utilizing our existing infrastructure of pumps, pipes and distribution centers, and incremental fuel efficiency improvements will keep existing fleets on the road a bit longer. However, the ultimate solution will be electric vehicles (EVs) fueled by charging stations linked to a network of utility-controlled renewable energy plants.
One major hurdle to overcome with EVs is that a tank of gasoline fills quicker and lasts longer than the storage capacity of EV batteries. Commuters, shippers and everyone in between will have to adjust their refueling habits accordingly. This means two segments of the EV Charging industry will thrive in coming years:
a) EV Charging Stations: You know that gas pump you’re accustomed to pulling up next to? Soon it will have a little buddy next to it pushing high doses of electricity into your ride. And they won’t just be in roadside fill-up stations either. They’ll be in your garage, the parking facilities where you work and shop, and just about anywhere else you leave your car for an extended period when not in use. EVs are useless if there’s nowhere to charge their batteries, so dotting the automotive landscape with charging stations will be big business in coming years.
b) EV Battery Swap Stations: An alternative to charging the battery already in your EV is swapping it with a pre-charged battery at a conveniently located swapping facility. Think of it like the propane tank swaps that are now standard outside most mega home improvement stores. You bring in your empty battery, pap a small fee for a filled one and drive off while the vendor re-fills it for the next customer. A level of standardization and mechanical convenience is required first so that the right battery for your vehicle can be easily located and installed, but this will eventually come to fruition as car companies, battery manufacturers and energy companies learn to play together nicely. Then it will be a land-grab for the best distribution centers.
2. Lighting Retrofits: Around 20% of total US electricity consumption comes from lighting, with about 10% of residential use and 35% of commercial use dedicated to brightening the spaces where we work and play. By just about all accounts, switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs and LEDs is the easiest way to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and lower energy expenses. Not only do these new lighting mechanisms use about 30% as much energy to produce the same amount of light, but they also emit less heat, which means less energy to be used on cooling. It’s a slam dunk first-move to embracing green technology that can be appreciated by homeowners, CFOs and sustainability professionals alike. There’s even the clean energy double-play of solar powered LED lights popping up on driveways, parking lots and walking trails all over the country, and we’ve seen some wind-powered prototypes about to hit the market too!
Old lights = New opportunities. With so few new building projects on the horizon, lighting retrofits are a major bright spot.
3. Smart Metering: The concept of the smart grid eludes most consumers, because they’re accustomed to a simple one-way process of purchasing energy on-demand from utility and oil companies. The necessity and opportunity of becoming renewable energy producers – supplementing their own consumption with alternative energy farmed at home and feeding the excess back into the grid at a profit or storing it for later use – means a two-way model will emerge. Every property participating in the renewable energy revolution will need a ‘smart meter’ capable of tracking not only how much energy was purchased, but also how much was supplied for others to consume, and at what cost. You know that gray meter discretely encased on the side of your building? It’s about to be upgraded.
Implementing smart meters opens to door to myriad other intelligent energy management tools, such as a complete ‘home area network’ linked to all the appliances in a home or energy efficient IT mechanisms. Smart meters are the gateway to future of energy management.
There you have it. That’s where we see the big money in the next few years. Was this helpful shaping your vision of green technology trends? Think we missed the mark? Let us know!
Here’s to a greener future.
by B Koles