10 Clean Tech Trends for 2011

Everyone tries to tell the future. Prognostication is an occupational hazard in emerging industries with the potential for big innovation and economic rewards. So it’s no surprise that those of us in the clean technology sector are prone to gaze into our crystal balls. And why not? After all, young industries like clean tech need smart people of vision to see past the present and into the potential of the future. As CEO of the Washington Clean Technology Alliance, I may not be a visionary, but when you work with the sort of innovators, investors and emerging technology that I do, you get excited about the possibilities of clean tech.

That’s why I’m offering my 10 trends for 2011. These are ideas, initiatives and circumstances that could have big effects for Washington clean tech.

  1. Moses Lake BMW factory: Moses Lake has been selected as the manufacturing site of carbon-fiber parts for BMW’s upcoming Megacity electric car. The 60-acre, $100 million facility will employ 80 workers manufacturing components for compact, battery-powered vehicles designed for urban travel. This project proves that clean tech can bring a prestigious global brand to Washington and create lasting, skilled jobs.
  2. Biofuels: Clean tech is highly competitive, which is why Washington should focus where it has a comparative advantage. One such sector is biofuels, and especially aviation fuel, given our regional aerospace industry. Boeing and Alaska Airlines are joining Washington State University, The Port of Seattle, The Port of Oregon and Spokane International Airport in the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest project. Advantage, Washington!
  3. Green building: Upgrading the energy efficiency of buildings is one of the most effective clean technologies. And Washington has a comparative advantage: State and local green-building standards are high and Washington builders have risen to meet them. Companies like Seattle-based McKinstry use business models that split the savings from conservation upgrades in existing buildings between themselves and the client. This is clean tech using proven materials and techniques, resulting in business incentives, customer savings and conservation.
  4. Political climate: The Republican takeover of the House and gains in Senate seats indicate an enormous ideological shift with practical consequences for clean tech. With a presidential election looming in 2012, it’s hard to foresee either side of the aisle making compromises to get things done. Expect two years of gridlock and progressive losses of federal support for clean tech.
  5. Washington state budget woes: With a projected budget shortfall of $5.7 billion between 2011 and 2013, all state programs are taking a hit, including clean-tech initiatives. Projects that would receive support in better years will be in for fight. What to do? Make your voice heard by contacting your legislators and the governor. Let them know that spending on clean tech jobs and innovation will help get Washington’s economy going again.
  6. Composite building materials: What happens to worn-out wooden pallets and crates? They become urban wood, a waste product that ends up in landfills. In 2011, NewWood in Elma is launching a wood-plastic composite board that will put urban wood to use, not waste. NewWood is designed to have the flexibility and dimensional strength of wooden materials with the durability of plastic.
  7. Electric vehicle charge stations: As hybrid and all-electric vehicles gain traction in the American auto market, electrical charging stations are popping up to serve them. Look no further than Bellevue City Hall, which is installing a pair of stations in the visitors’ parking lot. The stations are part of a network of 4,600 public and home stations installed through the $37 million ChargePoint America program, a Department of Energy initiative partly funded through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant.
  8. Washington smart grid leadership: By overlaying the existing electrical networks with IT systems and other energy-conservation devices, smart grid technology saves energy and money by routing electricity where and when it costs least. The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project is setting up test grid projects at 12 Northwest utilities. Sponsored with stimulus funding matched in part by utilities, the stage is set for Washington to take a leading role in moving smart grid utilization forward.
  9. Geothermal exploration: The Snohomish County PUD is exploring for geothermal deposits that may one day power 35,000 homes. Funded in part by Department of Energy stimulus money, five test wells are being drilled in the Cascade Range. While the Pacific Northwest has enjoyed relatively inexpensive energy in the past from sources such as hydropower, higher prices and funding for renewables could unlock geothermal energy potential.
  10. One thing’s for certain: The potential importance of the predictions above is considerable, but uncertain. However, my final prediction is a sure thing. I predict the unpredictable. Clean technology is moving fast; we can’t always see what’s around the corner. Call it what you want: the unexpected, a breakthrough or a paradigm shift (if you must). Remarkable surprises are coming, which is why I’m looking forward to 2011.

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