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Published on January 2nd, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan

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Cleantech Trends of 2014 & 2015

January 2nd, 2015 by  

We’ve already published several great articles on the 2014 highlights of wind power, cleantech investment, solar in India, Australia’s cleantech and climate action (or, rather, backtracking on these matters), and new electric cars. However, an overall cleantech trends wrap-up and view to the coming year seemed in order.

First of all, there are the general trends, which are nothing new but as big as ever:

  1. Solar power is blowing up. With continued progress on solar power prices and continued awareness that going solar can save you a boatload of money, solar power had another tremendous year of growth. Major markets like China, Japan, the US, India, and the UK were a big part of this, and each has had their own systems for incentives. However, solar has been popping onto the scene and/or growing strong all around the world — Africa, South America, Central America, Europe, Australia, and other parts of Asia and North America. Furthermore, solar prices have been beating fossil fuels, even unsubsidized(!), in some markets. What’s going to happen in 2015? More of the same. Much more of the same.
  2. Energy storage is really here, but just budding. A number of very promising energy storage companies have gone from the pilot stage to commercial production, or have jumped into the pilot project stage, or have unstealthed to reveal really exciting figures and targets. Clearly, there’s going to have to be a shakeout at some point, but right now it’s wonderful just to see that this is finally becoming a real market. The projected growth is insane, and the fact that solar storage prices have fallen 25% in Germany in less than one year is an awesomely inspiring statistic that shows potential for a lot more growth, but I think that is also a trend that isn’t letting up anytime soon. The ways commercial and residential storage are going to influence society are expected to be tremendous. Overall, 2015 will see energy storage companies and the market as a whole continuing to bud, making this a really exciting time in the energy industry. The really big years are still a little ways out, but 2015 will be a tranformative year that we look back on for many years to come.
  3. Electric cars are hitting their stride. Ignoring the odd analogy, electric car sales picked up again last year, several good new models hit the market, and 2015 looks like it will be even much bigger, because of new models, dropping prices, and greater public awareness. The big thing with electric cars is that they are much better when it comes to customer experience, so the more that get out there, and the more people becoming aware of them and test drive them, the faster they will grow. Electric cars are a stereotypical disruptive technology from everything I can see.
  4. Energy efficiency will keep improving, with fun new innovations. Energy efficiency in every sector offers the best LCOE and is greater energy efficiency is critical to addressing climate climate or pollution problems. A lot of important and influential people know this and are working to improve just about every sector out there. I’m sure we’ll have some good new energy efficiency news and fun tech and entrepreneurial developments to report on. But, as always, energy efficiency won’t get the love that it deserves.
  5. Wind power will grow a lot, but continue to face a hostile political environment in the US. The US wind production tax credit (PTC) hasn’t been extended, but many wind power projects were started (but not necessarily completed) in the past couple of years to take advantage of a policy that rewarded the initiation of projects. We should see a lot being completed in 2015. However, with a US Congress dominated by servants of fossil fuel industries, we’re unlikely to see much positive news regarding US wind power incentives. The good news is that wind power is already the cheapest option for new electricity generation in regions around the world (and costs continue to fall), so even without policy support from the US, it can and will grow stronger.

Those are the general trends I see. Regarding specific projects and companies, I think the big ones from 2014 and to watch in 2015 are:


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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.



  • Kyle Field

    Thank you, this is very thorough and helpful 🙂

  • Mike Shurtleff

    Very nice summary overview! Thank you Zach!

  • Joe

    Hasn’t the editor ever heard of clean nuclear energy. Let’s not get caught in the hype of solar and wind, it’s not sustainable and not cost effective. When the sun doesn’t shine, no power, when the wind doesn’t blow, same thing. It’s time for clean technica to embrace clean petrol and nuclear energy and abandon the hype.

    • Ross

      Yankee Nuclear Plant in Vermont (620MW) just shutdown at the end of 2014. Decommissioning and dismantlement will take decades and cost at least $1.2 billion dollars, about $2 million per MW.

    • Philip W

      Give me your adress please. I´ll ship all that nuclear waste to your backyard.

    • I’ll take this as sarcasm. 😀

    • Larmion

      Nuclear can be clean and can be reasonably cheap. It can’t be both.

      Clean nuclear power would involve a closed fuel cycle, or at least extensive reprocessing and proper storage in a stable repository. Can that be done? Yes, easily.

      The problem? Modern nuclear power plants are marginally viable at best. Any further improvements to waste management makes them economically unviable.

  • Ross

    Nice roundup and exciting times indeed. It is hugely encouraging to see technologies that not so long ago were written about here in R&D terms quickly move from trials to early commercial deployment.

    • Yes, the storage market is extremely exciting now, imho. 2015 is going to be a big year. 😀

  • Paul

    Mr. Shahan,

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts of the new bio-fuels being developed and what we could see in 2015, specifically with algae as a fuel? Do you see waste products as fuels breaking out soon?

    • Thanks for the note and question. From everything I’ve seen, algae is still a long ways off as a commercially viable biofuel… if it can ever get there. But I AM hopeful and bullish about halophyte biofuels:

      http://cleantechnica.com/2014/01/27/boeing-biofuel-breakthrough-big-deal/

      http://cleantechnica.com/2014/07/24/breakthrough-halophyte-biofuel-failure-tar-sands-oil-exclusive-videos/

      I assume there will be some good news about those this year, but still probably a few years off before we see it scaling up… if it doesn’t run into issues along the way.

      • Kyle Field

        I struggle with biofuels as even if we can produce them in a sustainable manor, they still undergo combustion when converted to energy, generating harmful emissions in the process.

        • Yeah, a good point. I don’t see them competing with electricity for cars, but think they’ll be useful/needed for aviation for some time.

          • Kyle Field

            Aviation – good point. That’s one area where I will be making a point of purchasing carbon offsets for from now on vs investing them in my own purchases. Crazy how one flight (to Abu Dhabi for instance 🙂 ) likely generates more carbon than everything else I do in a year… :/

          • Yeah, flights are crazy… This post by Lindsay Wilson does a great job of pointing that out: http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/my-carbon-footprint-in-2012

        • Larmion

          Very true, though these can be mitigated easily. And many of the potentially most attractive applications for biofuels – airplanes first and foremost – simply have no perfectly clean alternative on the horizon.

      • Larmion

        The claims about halophytes are eerily reminiscent of Jathropa curcas. Remember that miracle crop turned failure?

        An agronomy professor of mine once made this very simple observation about miracle crops: ‘Marginal land = marginal yield. Marginal inputs = marginal yield’.

        That simple truth was ignored by the Soviet Union, by biofuel boosters, by those aiming to green the Sahara in the beginning of the twentieth century and many others. And guess what? They all lost their money and wrecked the local environment.

        There’s nothing special about a halophile plant. It is just a plant that spends more energy on efflux pumps and osmotic adjustment than others, with disastrous results for total yield.

        The idea of irrigating with salt water is not new. The problem is that it gradually increases salinity in the deeper horizons of the soil, making osmotic adjustment every harder. In effect, you’re farming like a slash-and-burn nomad in the rainforest: a few good harvests, then move on and repeat.

        A potential solution could be to use hydroponics, as mentioned in the article. The cost of scaling that up is prohibitive though.

        My guess is that the biofuel of the future will be cellulosic ethanol from low-input systems like short rotation coppice wood and prairie grasses. Perhaps halophytes will see a niche application in desert countries that insist on absolute energy independence, but general use? Not in my lifetime I’d say.

  • Dragon

    All good stuff, but it seems like oil price is a big trend that wasn’t mentioned. A friend of mine is about to get a new car and I was trying to coax her toward an EV but with charging stations in her area charging 50% more than the cost of electricity and gas under $2/gallon, her math was saying she couldn’t save money with an EV. Of course she also said gas would need to get $10/gallon before the EV would save so maybe the 40% drop in gas price isn’t a factor in this decision (if her math is correct). She also said the EV chargers weren’t near enough her work so it would be a long walk and there were reports of car break-ins in that parking lot. Gah. Either way, I still feel like low gas prices are going to slow EV adoption the longer they go on, so I think it’s an important issue.

    • Paul

      Dragon, The fluctuations in gas prices I feel are deliberate. It can be very easy for the general public to go back and forth on renewables and EVs when they see the short term price changes. I also think it is important to make most EV charging stations solar powered with storage facilities to fight this claim the EVs are contributing to more pollution than conventional gas vehicles. There is certainly a lot of money to be lost in the oil and coal game, and I cannot see these CEOs going down without a fight.

    • Marion Meads

      We are not yet certain if the low price of oil is a trend that is going to stick for a long while. Most speculating that it will rise in summer. So it is not really a reliable trend.

    • Ross

      While gas prices are low, the US should add in some extra taxes. Compared to Europe your prices are so low.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      Your friend either has poor math skills, is only considering high end EVs like Tesla’s model S, or just doesn’t drive that far. “$10/gallon before the EV would save” is not normally realistic. Maybe the payback time she’s considering is very short. Considering all of her reasons, I’d say she’s just not interested in owning an EV.

      When I purchased my Prius almost 10 years ago, I had several engineer friends point out I would have been money ahead to purchase an ICEV and use the difference in cost to purchase gasoline. They were right, but for me the point was to vote for something better with my pay-check. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the Prius in the last 5 or 6 years.

      Yes, the lower cost of oil will slow down EV purchasing some. It will not stop it and oil prices will not stay this low. We are past peak in easy oil and new investments in hard to extract oil (deep ocean drilling, oil sands, and fracked oil) are not happening right now. Expect the pendulum of supply and demand to swing back in a year or two. Expect to see high prices again. Your friend is short-sighted.

      EVs are here to stay. The Prius sold poorly to begin with. Toyota has 4 or 5 model variants now. The same will be true for EVs. EV batteries continue to drop in price and improve. EVs may, or may not, slow down this year. They will still win in the short term. 5 years max till serious tipping point. (Consider the future cost of batteries from: Panasonic/Tesla, Seeo, Sakti3, VW/QuantumScape, or others.)

  • Will E

    the price slide of oil. 2015 will shift investments to cleantechnica.
    Wish you happy new year.

    • Very good one.

    • Kyle Field

      The price slide of oil this year is a result of increased US production which drove global supply to exceed demand. With OPEC deciding to keep their production flat, the global market had too much capacity resulting in the steep drop in prices. I don’t see that being a long term trend as the drop in prices has made quite a few of the production sites that were profitable at $100+/barrel unprofitable.

      The last 6 months have been chaotic in the industry with massive layoffs, project shutdowns, etc that will pull the supply back down …which will again bring prices up. Short term trend but one I HOPE we can capitalize on by dropping a tax on gasoline on as recommended by the Director of the IEA (http://cleantechnica.com/2014/12/15/use-drop-oil-prices-put-price-carbon-says-iea-director/)

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