Antenna Group is the nation’s leader in energy and sustainability public relations, with more than two decades of pushing the boundaries for the tech and green energy economies in sectors including alternative fuels, energy efficiency, energy storage, finance, renewable energy, waste management and water. Here, drawn from input provided by our clients, is Antenna’s list of the top clean tech trends to watch in 2017.
Back to the states — President Trump has vowed to scrap President Obama’s climate change policies, including the Clean Power Plan to cut CO2 emissions in the electricity sector. Though experts disagree over the limits of a Trump administration’s power to roll back U.S. climate change policy, an administration hostile to climate change initiatives is likely to accelerate state leadership of the transition to clean energy. State support for residential, commercial and utility-scale solar has already transformed those markets. The states have also adopted their own long-term carbon reduction targets, including California’s cap and trade program and the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. While some fear President Trump will try to limit the states’ authority to enforce their climate change regulations, such action could arouse opposition from conservative proponents of states’ rights.
Clean cattle — The worldwide popularity of meat and dairy comes at a steep environmental price. The livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 14.5 percent – than the transportation sector, according to the United Nations. One solution is renewable natural gas (biomethane or biogas) production. In 2014, the USDA released the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap to increase deployment of biogas systems. But the real boost for the biogas industry came in 2015 when the EPA allowed biogas to qualify as cellulosic fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires transportation fuel to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels. Look for continued RFS-driven growth in 2017. Though zero-emissions cattle may be wishful thinking, the U.N. estimates that best practices could reduce livestock-related emissions by 30 percent.
Combating food waste – An estimated 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply goes to waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – the equivalent of $162 billion a year, or roughly $1,500 a year for the average American family. Apart from the cost, food waste is a major source of methane, a major driver of global warming. Most food waste ends up in landfills, making landfills the nation’s third largest source of methane. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA called for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. The United Nations, France, and the Consumer Goods Forum, an industry association, have launched similar initiatives. As awareness grows, expect to see charitable and faith organizations, the private sector, and local, state and tribal governments launch new initiatives to reduce food waste.
Community solar on the rise — Reduced system cost and the demand for clean energy are driving demand for community solar, or solar power plants whose output is shared by more than one household or company, allowing those without access to solar — for instance, renters or homeowners whose roofs are unsuitable for solar — to reap the benefits. Navigant Research expects the total installed community solar programs in the United States to reach 1.5 GW by 2020, then grow fourfold from 2020 to 2025. As of 2016, 14 states and the District of Columbia had implemented policies promoting shared renewables, and many other states were considering them. California is expected to take the lead, representing 50 percent of U.S. capacity by 2020.
Death knell for the Paris agreement — The climate change agreement reached at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris was historic, moving the world toward a low-carbon future by setting the goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius. During his campaign, President Trump vowed to pull out of the 196-nation agreement, though he subsequently told the New York Times he would keep “open mind.” Because the agreement relies on peer pressure and market signals to achieve non-binding pledges, a U.S. pullout would likely be fatal. Some have speculated, however, that a U.S. pullout might ignite climate change activism around the world, including civil disobedience and a carbon-pollution import tax on American-made goods, that could help achieve the goals of the agreement.
Developing nations: bullish on renewables – Renewable energy investment in developing countries set a new world record in 2015, topping investment in developed economies for the first time – a trend that is expected to continue in 2017. Investments in renewable energy in developing nations were up 10 percent over 2014, while those in developed nations were down 8 percent. The shift was attributed to China’s push for renewable energy, the surge in demand for electricity in emerging countries and sluggish economic growth in the developed world by a 2016 report from the Frankfurt School – UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. European investment in renewable energy declined by 21 percent due to cutbacks in subsidies, but U.S. investment grew by 19 percent.
Residential energy storage takes off — The boom in energy storage is allowing homeowners with solar to use the grid as a backup, or even to cut the cord the cord entirely. Global annual residential energy storage system deployments are expected to increase from approximately 95 megawatts in 2016 to 3.8 gigawatts in 2025, according to Navigant Research. The market is being driven by increased implementation of residential solar, falling storage system costs, rising electricity costs and concerns about grid reliability. The U.S. market is dominated by California, but deployments are growing in other states, according to the U.S. Energy Storage Monitor Q4 2016 report from GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association. In the future, storage systems could reduce peak demand, limiting the need for new “peaker” plants.
Slowing of residential solar growth – As the pool of early residential solar adopters diminishes, residential solar companies are scrabbling for new customers. The cost and difficulty of landing new leads has led to a slowdown in residential solar growth, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Solar Market Insight Report 2016 Q4. For only the second time in five years, the residential solar PV market fell quarter-over-quarter, due primarily to a slowdown in major state markets. SEIA reports that continued growth of residential solar will depend on the industry’s ability to adapt to a maturing customer environment. In particular, the report cited the issues of customer fatigue in neighborhoods flooded with door-to-door salesmen and a shift in preference for consumer loans over leases and Power Purchase Agreements that has grown more quickly than expected.
Solar driving new electric generating capacity – U.S. solar installations drove 60 percent of new electric generating capacity in Q3 2016, a record that contributed to the quarter’s ranking as the largest ever for the U.S. solar industry, according to SEIA’s Solar Market Insight Report 2016 Q4. A total of 3.2 GWdc of utility PV projects came on-line in Q3 2016, accounting for 77 percent of installed PV capacity. The trend is expected to continue in 2017. Interestingly, more than 70 percent of the 2017 project pipeline comes from drivers other than renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Federal PURPA (Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act) legislation is expected to be the biggest driver in 2017. PURPA requires utilities to procure energy from small-scale renewable energy projects if they are priced at or below the cost of building additional power themselves. Utilities are also adding solar as a hedge against natural gas price volatility.