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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- SolarCity’s purchase of Silevo, and whether or not that makes SolarCity a manufacturing big dog or ends up as a dead end. To be lame about it, I think the result will be somewhere in the middle.
- Tesla’s under-construction Gigafactory, which was clearly one of the hottest stories of 2014, and will continue be big news this year, next year, the year after….
- Vivint Solar’s growth. It’s already clear at #2 in the US home solar market, but it has been expanding fast, and I’m curious to see how well it can scale and compete with #1 SolarCity.
- SunPower making it known that it isn’t going to stop being a leader, leaping into the solar + storage market, launching an attractive home solar loan program, and continuing to develop the best solar products on the market. SunPower is one solar company I’ve chosen to invest in, as even amongst several great solar companies, I think it is at or near the top of the pile and will remain there for a long time. I’m excited to see what it brings to 2015.
- First Solar’s continued leadership in the thin-film solar market, which is primed to explode, and expansion into residential/community solar power. (Note: this is another solar company I have invested in.)
- Sunrun’s continued growth and teaming up with energy storage and smart grid company Outback Power.
- Sungevity’s expansion, especially in non-US markets, where it seems to be a clear leader.
- There are a number of energy storage companies I’m watching like a hawk as they continue to make bold announcements and steps into mass production, including: Seeo, Sakti3, Younicos, Aquion Energy, Eos Energy, LG Chem, Panasonic/Tesla, Samsung, BYD, RES Americas, Electrovaya, Imergy Power Systems, CODA Energy, Stem, Alevo, QuantumScape, Ambri, Solar Grid Storage, Sunverge, Outback Power, and ViZn.
- In the electric vehicle space, I think the new Chevy Volt will do really well, Nissan will come out with a big and hard-to-beat surprise, and the Tesla Model X will arrive. Model X production won’t yet be enough to make a huge dent in terms of sales, but it will mark another huge step forward in the evolution of motor vehicles. BMW and Ford will continue to see relatively good sales with their own approaches to the growing EV market, and the many new electric cars arriving in 2015 will go a long way for broadening consumer awareness and adoption.
- E.ON’s and RWE’s huge shift towards renewables and a new utility business model. This is only the beginning of such news.
- The true arrival of community solar power in the US.