Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.



Forget Solyndra: The Cleantech Industry Isn't Dead

In fact, it’s thriving. A new report finds that investment in clean tech is skyrocketing. Don’t pay attention to the rhetoric; just follow the money.

For all the hype surrounding clean energy, there have been some well-publicized failures. Solyndra and Abound Solar are just a few of the companies that have stumbled—and in the case of Solyndra, completely failed—in their quest to create cleaner energy. But don’t write off clean tech quite yet. It’s not just that our planetary security depends on it; there’s also still a strong economic case to be made.

The 2012 edition of Clean Edge's Clean Energy Trends report points out that clean energy growth is not doomed, despite some admittedly severe growing pains.

  • 2011 was the largest year for global wind power installations ever. Wind power is projected to expand from $71.5 billion (in new installation capital costs) in 2011, up from $60.5 billion the prior year. By 2012, the market will expand to $116.3 billion.
  • Global biofuel production and pricing hit $83 billion in 2011, up from $56.4 billion the year before. This is actually because of rising biodiesel and ethanol prices triggered by higher feedstock prices.
  • The solar photovoltaic market grew from $71.2 billion in 2010 to $91.6 billion in 2011. It is expected to grow to $130.5 billion by 2012. The cost of installed solar PV is dropping, and will continue to drop in the future—good news in the battle between dirty energy (like coal) and solar.
  • In 2011, 70% of new electricity capacity in the EU came from renewable sources, while only 5% came from coal.
  • Last year, investments in clean energy projects reached a record $260 billion. One caveat: Over $200 million of those investments went to Fisker Automotive, which is being accused of selling cars that weren’t ready to go to market.

Just because clean tech is growing doesn’t mean the U.S. will end up on top. This massive infographic illustrates just how handily China is dominating the U.S in clean tech investment and growth. Countries like India and Germany are also quickly ramping up support for the industry.

Within the U.S., the military is leading the way. As Clean Edge points out, the U.S. Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the world, spending $15 billion each year. It makes sense, then, that the military has launched programs like the NetZero Base program, which aims to make all military bases have net-zero energy, water, and waste use by 2050 (the program is already well on its way).

Politics may sometimes cloud the debate, but the clean-tech industry is still very much alive. Rest assured that if all else fails, the military won’t let it die.

Add New Comment


  • D. M. Kenyon

    Despite the political rhetoric from those seeking election on the campaign contributions of big coal and other non-renewables, green-tech is alive, well and a booming business.  The appeal is not that there is suddenly huge groundswell of eco-consciousness.  Far from it.  What is driving green-tech is the same thing that drives all markets - money.  As a green-tech entrepreneur and a member of the board of directors for a business consortium of green-tech companies (Univerdant Sustainability Network), the money to be made in energy efficiency and environmental protection is lucrative because it poses simultaneous economic efficiencies. 

    While the Solyndra debacle has damaged the Department of Energy's ability to seed new technologies, private industry is moving toward green-tech in a big way and for good reason. New, highly promising, technologies are appearing in the market every day.  In fact, there is so much innovation int the market space that one could say that it has caused considerable market confusion as with any technological boom.  Investors are trying to discern which technologies will evolve sufficiently to take market share.  It is, at the moment, a wide-open field.

    The current green-tech market is similar to the automobile industry in the late 1910s and early 1920s.  There are a million ideas how to save energy and a decade from now, the market will be organized around a handful of technologies at the expense of thousands that will fall by the wayside.  This is simply the nature of technological revolution in the marketplace.  In every emerging market, especially one based on technological evolution, as the market organizes some players will grow and others will die.  And like any other "gold rush" there are always a Solyndra or two who crash and burn on great Power Point presentations without a business plan that can climb the mountain.

    D. M. Kenyon