In the climate change toolbox, "clean technology" is
the component that spans high excitement (think Elon Musk's Tesla
cars) and the deeply mundane (think frequency converters, waste
heat recovery boilers, and more).
While there is no single accepted definition, the
phrase spans technologies that cut emissions, improve the
environment, and reduce the consumption of natural resources.
The development of clean technology is touted as one
of the most effective ways to tackle climate change and other
And it is already a multibillion-dollar business.
According to figures from consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan presented
at the Global
Cleantech Summit in Helsinki this week, the market for
clean technology was worth $601bn in 2014. By 2020, the firm
predicts this will expand to $1.3tn.
With the world likely to sign an emissions-cutting
deal in Paris in December this year, and large economies
such as India and China eager for ways to clean up their air
pollution, rivers and land, it is easy to paint the future of the
clean technology in a rosy light.
Speaking in Helsinki on Tuesday, Achim Steiner,
executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme
"Clean technology is
succeeding today not only in Europe but all over the world. China
is one of the largest producers of renewable energy today. India
has just announced a 100,000MW solar programme. Saudi Arabia is on
the forefront. Kenya, the country in which we operate, because of
its green energy policy put in place eight years ago, is today
producing the vast majority of its electricity with
renewables...The story repeats itself, in the United States, in
However, the story is not an entirely happy one. In
2012 and 2013, investments in clean technology slumped.
Figures released in January 2014 by
Bloomberg New Energy Finance showed that, after a record
$318bn in global investment in clean energy in 2011, this dropped
to $286bn in 2012 and again to $254bn in 2013.
This, too, was a story that repeated itself across the
globe. In 2013, China saw its investments in clean energy slip by
3.8% from 2012 levels, down to $61bn. In the US, investments
dropped by 8.4% to $48bn.
Europe saw one of the biggest declines, with
investment falling by 41% down to $58bn in 2013. Bloomberg
attributed this to big economies, such as Germany, Italy and
France, restricting subsidy payments for new projects and failing
to dispel uncertainty over future support.
Wind, solar and biomass all saw investments drop
during this period - although for other clean technologies,
including smart grids, storage, electric vehicles and efficiency,
investments continued to rise slightly.