Green tech grows up
Who wasn't interested in clean technology in 2006?
Scientific studies further strengthened the link between global warming and greenhouse gases. Rising gasoline prices over the summer caused a panic, along with a hike in profits for oil companies and oil-producing nations.
Meanwhile, companies specializing in solar power, ethanol, electric cars and other technologies raked in record amounts of venture capital.
The catch? With the exception of a few examples, like solar cell manufacturer SunPower, a lot of new entrants into the energy field are still in the start-up phase, so it's hard to determine whether they will succeed or stall out. Multinationals are also putting on the pressure.
A company called Nanosolar made huge headlines when it landed $100 million in venture funds to build solar plants. However, it's not yet offering a product, and it will have to face giants like Shell Solar when it does.
Similarly, Tesla Motors unveiled a sports car that runs entirely on electricity. That made the company, with $40 million in funding, one of the richest electric car companies out there. That is, until Nissan announced it planned on coming out with an electric car in the near future.
A prediction: 2007 will likely become a year when many of these new ideas will begin to get tested in the marketplace.
The clean energy field can roughly be broken down into three areas: transportation (new fuels; energy efficient cars and boats); electricity generation (solar power, wind power); and efficiency (low-energy appliances, networked thermostats and recycling).
Of the three, efficiency likely holds the most promise for more immediate results. In the 1970s, California put a huge dent in the growth of electricity demand with energy-efficient household appliances. Now many believe that replacing conventional light bulbs with fiber-optic lights, improving how electric motors operate and moving to more energy-efficient PCs and servers could produce similar results.
Solar power also continued to make significant strides. Solar companies and installers reported that demand remains strong for the products--so strong, in fact, that the solar-panel shortage continues. Look for more factory capacity to come online in the next few years.
Alternative energy cars probably remain the most difficult to take to the mainstream, but here, too, the progress was quite substantial in 2006. The major car manufacturers have all seen what the Prius has done for Toyota, and all, to some degree, have announced hybrid cars, ethanol vehicles, clean diesel programs and/or electric cars.
A related clean tech field that got a lot of attention in 2006 was water. The world is facing a looming water shortage that, if not ameliorated, could lead to massive health and economic problems, various scientists have said. In turn, this has lead to exploration into things like biological pesticides that cut dependence on chemical fertilizers (made out of petroleum products) and plants that can grow food with less effort.
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