The clean tech industry is growing up and like any other, maturity is not coming without growing pains. But in Austin, clean tech has helped keep the economy booming despite a global recession and is a solid contributer to the city’s growing reputation as a international hub of innovation. In this Green Line Series interview, clean tech expert, Iga Hallberg, gives us the run down on the industry’s next frontiers and the impact it is poised to make on global energy markets.
GoGreen Conference: The clean tech industry has seen its ups and downs of late. It’s been the darling of the green jobs movement and it’s been at the heart of several major controversies over taxes, subsidies and incentives, and international accusations of bad sportsmanship — despite all of that, what kind of real, progressive impact has clean tech made on the energy and tech industries as a whole in the past five years?
Iga Hallberg: I think we need to look at the clean tech industry as a system and consider both the generation and conservation of energy on assessing the impact of clean tech on our communities and economy. According to Bloomberg Energy Finance, over $1 trillion has been made in investments into renewable energy since 2004. The renewable energy generation industry has grown very rapidly in the past few years with global renewables power capacity (minus hydro) at over 300GW currently.
We have seen similar progress on the efficiency side and huge investments in technologies in smart lighting, thermostats, appliances, building materials and standards. It is fascinating to see the different types of programs that are being supported in different regions globally and as we would expect, those programs typically fit the resources available in those areas.
For example, we have utility scale solar plants being built in the Southwest, while rooftop systems are more prolific in urban areas in California and the Northeast. Likewise, many private homes and commercial customers have taken advantage of new more efficient lighting technology. Today, the German solar industry still employs hundreds of engineers and workers developing technology throughout the whole value chain despite the fact that much of the panel manufacturing has moved to China recently.
The industry is growing globally and continuing to invest even in a soft economy making renewable energy more cost effective and available to many more developing countries than even three years ago.
GG: Has the industry’s image been damaged by the controversies surrounding its growth? Do you see a reframing of the story as necessary to securing the industry’s future success in the States? If so, what is the story that needs to be told?
IH: This is a very young industry which will go through maturing cycles like any other. A lot of the policy and incentives have been offered to support initial growth and are designed to be reduced and ultimately taken away. The industry MUST learn to sustain itself through rapid scale and simultaneous cost reduction in order to be competitive on a global basis. That goes for solar power, as well as things like better insulating windows for homes. We have recently seen similar cycles in the semiconductor and display industry in the 1980s and 90s and the explosion of personal electronics in the past 10 years with rapid globalization of products and applications. Whole industries have been developed to support our use of our favorite communications devices.
We have also had a number of public failures and one wonders about motivations for their massive publicity, but those of us in the industry watching the rise and fall of certain technologies and services recognize that it is a natural process of industry maturity. We all can point to different technologies that have had great Continue reading