You like going outside, right? You have fond memories of going down the slide, swinging in warm summer air and jumping into pools, right? Whether you believe in global warming in an official sense, it should be important to you to preserve our environment and the natural resources around you.
With the U.S. election now over and the changing of the guard, the environment has become a contentious topic for our country. I feel a bit like Peter Pan saying this, but some silly adults seem to be putting their 2017 profit margin at a higher priority than the entire planet. But all hope is not lost -- an increasing percentage of our global population has decided that keeping our environment healthy is a critical and noble cause.
However, 2017 looks to be a defining year in the battle between green initiatives and big business. Of course, not everything rests on the United States, though it is a major player. The fossil fuel industries are making moves in Europe, with oil suppliers cutting supply to drive up prices again. Additionally, China and India have shown signs that they would like to be leaders in clean energy, but politics can still derail that plan -- and both are poised to act in reaction to the U.S.
This situation has worn on me, and I have a feeling it’s wearing you down as well. To calm my nerves, I took a health check of the major green energy and environmental initiatives and also forecasted what we can expect in 2017. Lastly, because nobody likes to sit by and watch the world happen around them, I’ve hit on a few things we entrepreneurs can do to help.
By almost every account, solar has had a good year. In fact, it has had a few good years, growing in the U.S. by substantial margins since 2010. This year, experts forecast that solar companies will install 73 gigawatts of new solar capacity, up from 51 gigawatts in 2015.
Some forecasts predict that growth of new solar installations globally will decline to the single digits, due to market saturation in the U.S. and China, but will surge ahead again by 2019 as more markets (such as the middle and lower class) open up as technology becomes more affordable. Many are hoping to see China emerge as a leader in the industry -- both as a producer and as a political leader.
China has taken leadership in photovoltaic manufacturing and deployment. Now it also has the golden opportunity to do it in policymaking. With the uncertainty surrounding new U.S. energy and climate policy, China has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to move its policy positions forward -- and it will, despite some disturbing signals from Beijing.
So what can entrepreneurs do to help? First of all, look at your electrical bill, and make sure that -- if it’s an option -- you’ve selected to receive solar energy. If you own your own facilities, consider installing solar panels on the roof. Lastly, take a look at your supply chain. Ask your suppliers and vendors what they’re doing to support solar, and if they use panels at their own facilities.
Do they have competitors who do more to preserve the environment around them? Consider switching (or at least threatening to switch) to make sure that your money goes towards helping the solar industry grow.
Energy storage might be the most exciting clean energy technology to watch in 2017. Growth is expected in nearly every sector: at home, commercially and at public facilities.
The energy storage industry in the U.S. is expected to grow to 478 megawatts in 2017 and more than 2,045 megawatts by 2021. The clean energy industry’s continued ability to cut costs and reduce the demand for fossil fuels is pivotal to its success in the coming years.
So what can entrepreneurs do to help? As an entrepreneur, you’re in a prime spot to help. Consider storing energy yourself -- this is a great excuse to invest in Tesla products. Just as with solar, consider putting your money towards vendors and suppliers who use energy storage with their green initiatives.
In the U.S., wind energy is not the bulk producer that solar is, though it should be noted that wind has much larger adopters abroad. Still, the wind energy industry continues to plug along, installing 7 gigawatts of production capacity in 2016.
However, the future of wind energy is brighter than many realize. According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are 18.2 gigawatts of wind energy capacity currently under construction or in the planning process, which would represent nearly a quarter of current capacity.
Thankfully, the political future of wind energy is still quite secure -- even if some golf course owners aren’t huge fans. Legislation passed near the end of 2015 guarantees energy tax credits through 2019, which gives the industry time to further refine its technology before it has to go head to head with oil and coal. With the increased public awareness of the problems that oil and gas cause, I’m confident that by 2019, wind energy will have a secure place in the hearts and minds of the population.
Vic Shao, founder and CEO of Green Charge, the largest provider of commercial energy storage in the U.S., says that the fundamentals of the clean energy industry are good even if there are challenges in the new year.
“The technology is viable. From solar and wind to hydro and energy storage, the technology is producing energy at competitive rates and there are more and more solutions that save consumers significant sums of money," Shao says. "The new year certainly has question marks, but the industry as a whole is healthy. Clean energy as an industry is more robust than ever before."
He's right - almost all of the numbers suggest that progress is continuing to accelerate.
So what can entrepreneurs do to help? Just as with the previous two, the best thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to get involved -- put your money towards vendors and suppliers that use wind energy, support the industry and offer your assistance.
If you’re still searching for your perfect startup idea, consider getting into green energy. More and more college startup ideas that are as profitable as they are ethical include a variety of possibilities, including organic catering, bicycle repair and eco energy consultant. Consider becoming part of these booming, prosperous industries by becoming a solar panel or wind energy vendor or installer or a bio-fuel producer. Equally needed are those who know how to perform maintenance on these modern machines -- and you can learn how at most community colleges and ed tech programs.
As environmental issues and concerns become a center issue in political debates around the world, it’s becoming apparent that 2017 is the year that green initiatives will have the opportunity to become more than what crunchy granola hippies talk about and become fully mainstream. I hate to think of what would happen if they fail.