Cleantech's Coming of Age

After two centuries of burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases at an exponentially increasing rate, the earth’s climate is changing. Human-induced warming is disrupting a number of natural systems that we depend on.

Predictions are that a temperature increase above 2°C is almost inevitable, which will entail more extreme weather events, sea level rises, precipitation changes, disappearing coral reefs and ocean acidification. International climate change negotiations are not delivering sufficiently on the challenge to avoid catastrophic climate change, which make accelerated investments in solutions by business, financial institutions, countries and cities even more crucial.

It is clear that renewables must assume the full share of the global energy supply market to avoid 2°C global warming whilst preventing major water pollution, hazardous waste for generations, poor human health, proliferation of nuclear weapons and unnecessarily high costs.

WWF’s Energy Report shows that all of the world’s energy needs can be met cleanly and renewably by 2050, in ways that can be sustained by the global economy and the planet, and that such a transition is not only possible but cost-effective. Such an energy transition must put energy savings at the core which is also proven necessary in the latest reports from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, UN Environmental Programme and others.  

Solutions exist and can be realised with the right combination of political, social and financial will. But the major innovation challenges ahead include the acceleration of business models that take solutions to market and the continuous cost-cutting of key technologies. We must deliver energy services in much smarter and more innovative ways in a future of decentralised sustainable energy rather than the current centralised unsustainable energy.  

In order to accelerate progress we need to look at the conditions surrounding both large and small solution providers. We will need to see a wide range of innovative cleantech solutions quickly scale up over the next three decades. Agencies, governments, investors and businesses need to proactively collaborate as forces for change in transitioning towards a sustainable energy future on a global level.

Tracking the innovation activity of smaller cleantech disruptors that carry the hope of enabling a shift to more good solutions is the impetus for the Global Cleantech Innovation Index 2014 which is published today. The index demonstrates that countries will gain traction if they:

·   are able to adapt to the growing demand for renewable energy (at home and abroad)

·   are connecting start-ups with multiple channels (e.g. multinational corporates, public procurement) to increase their success rates

·    are increasing international engagement to spur widespread adoption of clean technologies.

Together we must help enterprises which contain the pieces to the 100% renewable energy puzzle to grow more rapidly. We must join hands around the world in creating a more attractive future for all, and make it clear to decision-makers that we are ready and able to do so.

Read the Global Cleantech Innovation Index 2014 report here

Stefan Henningsson is a senior advisor on climate innovation for WWF International.

100 Sustainable Innovations to Rock this World!

By Stefan Henningson, Senior Adviser Climate Innovation, WWF International

The train I’m on takes me to Oslo today as it is the day for the launch of SUSTAINIA 100. It will profile 100 exciting, inspiring stories of innovative sustainability solutions from around the world. These stories are shaping a better future for people and the planet than the world we live in today.

Worker at Guodian wind turbine plant, Baoding, Hebei province, China (© Thomas Haugersveen / WWF-Norway)

My colleagues and I had the pleasure of being on the advisory board, screening a pool of over 900 nominated solutions this year to select the 100 best enablers of the creative revolution we are in – solutions that are disrupting our old unsustainable ways of producing and consuming energy, water, food and fibre. These solutions are designed to take us beyond the old ways that no longer work to support a growing world population whilst staying within the resource and ecological boundaries set by our one and only planet.

The question in our minds while making these selections, is: How do we best shape new markets in a way that rethinks unsustainable consumption patterns and creates transformational changes for resource efficiency, catalysing a more circular economy?

These were my favourite SUSTAINIA 100 trend-setter stories that stood out this year:

  • Save energy: A 10-year performance lighting contract in Washington, DC in the United States will upgrade more than 13,000 garage lighting fixtures in the city to LED at no upfront cost. This will lead to a 68% reduction in energy consumption and prevent 11,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This is not too good to be true. The thinking of leveraging home energy use is similar to enabling solar power on home roofs. This story is a must-read for investors and city decision makers
  • Recreate power: Imagine a group of companies banding together to retrofit to create buildings that create more power than they use themselves. Meet Powerhouse Kjørbo. Buildings account for 40% of the world’s energy use. Higher upfront construction costs will be repaid over the building’s lifetime due to lower energy costs, making the building financially viable. These retrofits can be built nearly anywhere and use technologies that already exist. Not a bad bet for long term investors like pension funds as an alternative to investing in coal, oil and gas companies.
  • Move better: Proterra has developed the EcoRide electric bus. It has a fast-charging system that means it can stay on the road and avoid needing to stop and charge overnight. Guess how long a recharge takes? 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes. It’s composite  body  means a 20-40% weight reduction, meaning about $750,000 USD in fuel savings. Not to mention, it offers $130,000 in maintenance savings, compared to a diesel-powered bus over a 16-year life-cycle. I believe the EV bus market will explode in the near future – and Proterra is a beacon case.
  • Storing energy: The world is building a new path of more sustainable power sources like solar and wind power. One misunderstood argument is that these power types are intermittent – only when the sun shines or the wind blows. But that’s not the case if done right. Many SUSTAINIA 100 stories show how this can be done with intelligent energy storage.  Stories like Aquion Energy’s saltwater battery storage, Abengoa’s Solana plant, and Ambri’s Liquid Metal Battery storage. These storage systems are already commercialised and it is just a question of time until further innovation in renewables and storage bypasses and replaces coal, gas and nuclear within power systems around the world.

These stories are exciting for all of us – but most of all for investors. These are clear signals and opportunities for bets to be better placed: out of the problems and into the solutions.  The solutions enabling a sustainable zero carbon life are already here. Everywhere around the world in fact. Seize Your Power to invest in the solutions and a better future for us all.