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Predicting The Direction Of World-Changing Innovation In 2012

From an increased emphasis on local food to generating more power from people’s movement, changing how we live and consume resources could take interesting turns in the new year.

It’s almost the New Year, which means an endless supply of predictions about trends in 2012 (and the years beyond) are pouring into our inboxes. Below, we look at some of our favorites.

Rock-bottom Solar Prices

Solar for everyone! Earth2Tech predicts that 2012 will continue the trend of rapidly dropping solar prices (the price of solar dropped a whopping 40% in 2011), leading to even more solar companies going out of business because of an oversupply of panels. The good news is that low solar panel prices make renewable energy more attractive and accessible to consumers. It won’t be long before you feel compelled to slap a few cheap solar panels on your roof.

More People Power

Every year, IBM offers its "5 in 5"—five predictions for the next five years. IBM predicted this year that 2016 will bring an increase in people power, or renewable energy technology that relies on human movement. Consider: The energy release triggered by walking could be captured by a device implanted in your shoe. That device could then be used to power your cell phone. A gadget in your bicycle spokes could capture energy that is used to run your kitchen appliances. The technology exists; it’s just a matter of deploying it on a massive scale.

Mounting Pressure For Companies To Become Environmentally Responsible

If you want to keep your shareholders happy in 2012, you’ll have to seriously think about your company’s environmental impact. That’s the prediction from sustainability technology company Brighter Planet, which notes that Ernst & Young recently discovered a 40% year-over-year growth rate in sustainability shareholder resolutions. Ernst & Young also predicts that half of all shareholder resolutions in 2012 will be related to corporate social responsibility.

Local Everything

The growing focus on local goods and food will move out of your neighborhood and into the tourism industry in 2012, according to consulting firm Andrew Freeman and Company. Expect to see hotels made out of indigenous materials offering local snacks and art from local artists. The in-hotel spa will offer locally inspired treatments, and restaurants will proffer hyper-regional cuisine (a la San Francisco’s Locavore.

Zero Net Energy Buildings

Green building consulting and sustainability planning firm Yudelson Associates predicts that net-zero energy buildings, or buildings that produce as much energy as they use, will become popular in both residential and commercial settings. We take a look at a handful of futuristic net-zero designs here.