Will Sandy bring more clean tech to the U.S.?

solar panels

Photo: Abi Skipp.

After a lashing from Superstorm Sandy and a lot of political scrutiny during the election process, the U.S. might like to look at its environmental policies.

The world’s largest economy is not leading the way in terms of taking environmental responsibility. At the recent Rio+20 summit it committed itself to very few new national targets, and amended some previous targets to make them more achievable.

Whether it’s the financial crash, military stresses, or other domestic issues, American politicians on the whole have spent their energy campaigning on things other than sustainability. That’s been left largely to the private sector to drive with its own agenda.

The clean technology sector is being fed at the moment by private sector investments and government initiatives. The Financial Times says the most hope for renewable breakthroughs is coming from start-ups looking for cleaner energy solutions, revolutionising everyday inefficiencies such as batteries and lightbulbs.

The Cleantech Group has researched its 2012 Global Cleantech 100 to highlight the potential commercial impact these companies will have over the next decade. Interesting fact: solar companies in the Cleantech 100 are down 40%, but energy efficiency companies have increased by just under 50%.

Main focus of clean tech:

  • Clean energy sources
  • Water recycling
  • Waste management

As part of the Cleantech 100 report Cleantech Group’s Richard Youngman described a “lower tolerance for technology risk, and/or a lower tolerance for the big bet.” He is suggesting companies want an early ROI, all but guaranteed.

Even so, the Financial Times points to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report that show clean energy investment reached $280bn in 2011. That number in 2004? $53 billion.

Cleantech investment is greatest among some of the world’s largest corporations who are happy to invest in tomorrow’s technologies seeing as it gives them a bigger share.

Developed economies simply aren’t doing as much as they could to promote energy efficiency. Two reasons are budget constraints and a lack of faith in the choppy market conditions. One hope is that developing countries such as those in Latin America find ways to develop their economies and take care of their natural resources. For example, Brazil is developing sugar cane ethanol to use as biofuel.

Where on the one hand the UK and Germany show us examples of governments trying to save money by cutting subsidies for energy efficiency, China is demonstrating increasing support for its efficiency measures being manufactured within China.

So. There is change happening, due to private investment and some government initiatives. But it will take a jolt – and perhaps Sandy was such a jolt – to give the US the urgency required for decisive action.

— David Thomas, Transition Voice

David Thomas writes about clean technology and solar power for The Eco Experts. You can speak to him at @theecoexperts.

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