Monday, Dec. 06, 2010

Despite Setbacks, Moving Forward in Clean Tech

When environmental history is written, 2010 could be seen a disaster for the clean technology industry. The year dawned just after the disappointment that was December's U.N. global warming summit in Copenhagen, where the nations of the world failed to produce a comprehensive treaty to cut carbon emissions — the sort of agreement that could have given business the long-term confidence to invest in clean tech. It didn't help that the overblown controversy known as "climategate" — which involved allegations of fraud by climate scientists — undermined trust in global warming science, letting skeptics back into the debate. Worst of all, the Senate failed even to vote on a bill that would have capped U.S. carbon emissions and produce a market designed to kick start clean tech. In America, at least, green tech seems to have gone backwards.

But that's a myopic view. In Europe, which already has a carbon market, investment in clean energy — including wind and solar — isn't going away. China has emerged as a major player in clean tech, investing hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In doing so, it's positioning itself to lead the world in the industry of tomorrow. And even the U.S., for all its political problems, hasn't stood still: the Department of Energy, under Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, has begun directly supporting innovative clean tech companies and pumping more money into basic research and development. Most important, the U.S. — and especially Silicon Valley — is still home to what might be the world's most innovative entrepreneurs in clean tech. These folks are not short of smart ideas, as you'll see here.