Antenna account professionals spent 2019 in the trenches of the industries we cover, helping shape the cleantech topics that filled newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs and social media feeds all year. What does 2020 have in store for us? Here our Ants dust off their crystal balls and reveal their predictions for the year to come. What trends are you watching as you start the new year? Drop us a line to continue the conversation.
New regional programs support a more efficient and electrified economy
Cities and states showed strong leadership this year in setting clean and renewable energy targets. It was thrilling to witness a groundswell of municipalities committing to a clean energy economy, but I was paying particular attention to innovative regional programs that will actually help achieve these goals.
New York City recently announced that all large commercial buildings will be graded on their energy efficiency performance beginning mid-2020–with final grades displayed to the public at each building’s entrance–as part of the Climate Mobilization Act. Several years after the grading system is implemented, buildings will be hit with big fines if they remain too carbon-intensive. In Toronto, another innovative program, led by Peak Power and supported by other area businesses, incentivizes people to purchase electric vehicles (EVs). As a seasoned (and tired) car commuter, I would be hard-pressed to turn down free EV charging, free downtown parking and a generous EV discount. Beyond the clear consumer benefits, the initiative is doing important work to support Toronto’s emerging vehicle-to-grid infrastructure. I’m excited about these programs and others that launched in 2019 because they will enable the more efficient economies and smarter cities that so many regional leaders are striving for. With those goals still in the sights of governments and corporations next year, creative and promising regional programs that bring together cleantech innovators, consumers, local governments and/or large companies will be an important force for cleantech progress in 2020.
-Liz Crumpacker, Director
A more mature community solar sector will break into the mainstream
At the end of 2018, I was excited about the promise of community solar but saw lots of room for improvement. A little over a year later, it’s looking like community solar as a whole has improved––most notably with the rise in consumer-friendly contracts with guaranteed savings on energy bills and no cancellation fees (and, in New York, consolidating two electricity bills into one). According to Emma Foehringer Merchant at Greentech Media, community solar may have just “come of age” in 2019. U.S. community solar installed capacity passed 1 GW last year, growing to 1.3 GW by July 2019 with installations in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
Next: the community solar boom of 2020. Renewable energy mandates and goals will continue to drive municipalities, corporations and other public and private entities to build out renewable energy generation in diverse and creative ways, and community solar will be more attractive than ever next year. From a marketing perspective, the messages “generate solar energy without installing panels” and “save 10% on your electricity bills just by signing up” are pretty compelling, and now that they are being offered to consumers with less fine print, community solar is poised to break into the mainstream. Right now, only 16 states and D.C. have policies in place that explicitly support community solar. Look for that number to increase next year and, independent of policy trends, look for community solar to maintain or even accelerate its already-impressive rate of growth in 2020.
-Josh Garrett, VP of Client Success
Symbiotic solutions at the intersection of EVs and renewables
There’s no doubt that the transition from internal combustion vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) is happening. McKinsey & Co. reported that U.S. EV adoption has increased, on average, 46% per year for the past three years. Bloomberg predicts EVs will make up 57% of all passenger car sales worldwide by 2040. This all sounds great, but in order to make EVs a significant net-positive for the grid and the environment, we need to ensure that EVs are charged with renewables and utilized for storing and supplying power, not just consuming it.
In 2019, we’ve seen an increasing number of renewable EV charging solutions. For example, Greenlots, acquired by Shell this year, has partnered with Volvo to charge their electric trucks with solar in warehouses in California. The California Air Resources Board awarded this project nearly $45 million. SolarEdge launched a groundbreaking EV charger that doubles as a solar inverter. The charger is 6x faster than a typical charger and 99% efficient, making it an easy choice for homeowners to adopt EVs and solar together and start driving on renewable power.
This year, we’ve also seen examples of EVs making our grid more efficient. As Liz describes above, Peak Power piloted a fascinating solution using EVs as grid storage assets this year in Toronto. This year’s examples show how EVs, especially when aggregated, can help us add more renewables to the grid by shifting their time-of-use.
Together, these solutions provide a glimpse into the future, in which renewables will power our vehicles and vehicles will maximize our utilization of renewables. We expect to see increasing overlap between the two sectors in 2020 and the decade to come.
-Katie Ullmann, Senior Director
Drawing the line at a linear economy
Growing numbers of consumers, industries and government entities are embracing a circular economy, where products are created to be reused indefinitely, instead of going into a landfill at the end of their useful lives. This growing trend has made a big impression on corporates and investors are starting to bet on its growth. Just last month Blackrock partnered with Ellen MacArthur to launch the BGF Circular Economy Fund to drive investment towards businesses working on circular economy initiatives. Startups like Loop, a B2C trailblazer, are partnering with major brands including Haagen-Dazs, Tide and Tropicana to deliver products in reusable containers that get picked up after use. WestRock, the B2B packaging solutions company, has generated $6 billion earlier this year for their innovative and sustainable packaging approach. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “Applying circular economy principles could unlock up to EUR 1.8 trillion of value for Europe’s economy.” The heart of the circular economy trend is doing more with less, and the financial benefits of that goal are proven and growing, setting the stage for a major upswing in circularity in 2020.
-Ariel Marantz, Intern
Oil and gas companies feel the pressure to invest in renewable energy
Last year, the world’s largest oil companies invested $3.4 billion in low carbon energy technologies. The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a coalition of major oil and gas corporations, established a $1 billion investment fund for innovative clean technologies in an effort to help address the climate crisis.
A number of lawsuits against some of those same gas companies have gone to trial this year, including a suit against ExxonMobil for allegedly misleading stakeholders about the industry’s impact on climate change. Increased awareness about the climate crisis and the long-term decline in crude prices have created an imperative for investors to rethink the environmental consequences and monetary risks of investing in fossil fuel companies. The climate divestment movement picked up steam this year when the Norweign sovereign wealth fund announced it would gradually dump $6 billion in oil and gas stocks. Interestingly enough, the fund will continue to invest in oil and gas companies that are developing renewable energy businesses, such as BP and Shell. Lastly, the cost of renewable energy is competitive with fossil fuels under many circumstances. According to an International Renewable Energy Agency report from this summer, unsubsidized renewable energy is most frequently the cheapest source of energy generation.
Under pressure from trepidatious investors and fierce competition, we can anticipate oil and gas companies to continue to diversify their activities and invest in renewable energy in 2020.
– Camille Cater, Associate Account Executive