Did you know that in Denmark, thirty plants consuming a yearly 3.5 million tons of waste cover 5% of domestic electricity demand and 20% of heat? The production of energy through waste recovery and recycling is booming. But so diverse are the technologies that a closer look is needed to assess the potential of the celebrated urban mine.
Economists, as well as companies, increasingly care about the ecologic crisis. Various approaches are emerging that all strive to reduce the environmental impacts of the production and consumption of manufactured goods. Among them, functional economy belongs to the powerful trend of servitization of products. It triggers three dramatic mutations, regarding value estimation, ownership and the relation to time.
Tomorrow, urban wastewater treatment plants will be more than just decontamination factories. They will also produce a wide scope of resources, from water reused for human needs to green energy, bioplastics or even mineral components. Wastewater treatment will be a key issue in the development of a green economy: researchers will be able to combine biotechnologies, biochemistry and microbiology with chemical engineering and applied mathematics.
The German photovoltaic industry is in chaos. Overwhelmed by the boom of solar home systems, the government has had to brutally halt subsidies whose costs were threatening to… go through the roof. Caught between Chinese competition and the falling price of solar panels, several of the flagships of this young industry are now on the brink of bankruptcy. After having enjoyed a heyday of several years, the sector suddenly has to adjust to new conditions. And, if it hopes to recover, must adapt.
With such a range of possibilities, wherein lies the best approach to the goal of reducing global CO2 emissions? Might shifting perspectives on both lifestyle and technology come to be seen less as a constraint and more as the key to ever greater progress? The response to the current challenge depends as much on the emergence of disruptive innovation as on fresh perspectives toward current modes of energy production and consumption.
The green energy boom has opened up cracks in the electricity sector to force to the surface problems which until recently were of only marginal interest. Wind power in particular has provoked forceful debates. Among the subplots are questions over how to manage intermittency. The result is a multiplicity of paths to innovation, one of which leads directly to electricity storage.
It's been less than fifteen years since the issue of green chemistry has become a matter of public debate, yet it now seems to prove strategic for that industry. Far from being a mere compliance with standards dictated by regulations, this is a matter of strong industrial choices - choices by no means limited to developing new processes, but truly involving a major overhaul of the chemistry industry.
To build a sustainable economy, consuming fewer natural resources, we need to think in terms of growth, not otherwise. The issue of sustainability should be tackled in a dynamic way. By setting a new model for the lifecycle of materials, we can project what the future's economic model could look like.
Micro-algae are driving a small technological revolution. Their cultivation marks a new era in the production of biofuels, reinventing industrial processes as well as economic models. In the United States and Europe, several projects are now moving from an experimenting phase to actual operation.
Power grids have long been constructed with a built-in intelligence. So why is so much noise being made over the arrival of so-called "smart grids"? Are we witnessing a real revolution? The potential for a massive shake-up is clear, one that could have an impact on power utilities, regulators, manufacturers, network managers, and consumers for many years to come.
The multiple interactions that underlie complex situations are poorly understood by the market approach. For economists they should represent the submerged portion of an iceberg that is much larger than it appears. Externalities are the visible manifestation of untapped potential and herald rich seams of value that have bubbled just under the firmament of human interaction since the dawn of the digital age. Make no mistake, at the level of individual enterprise as well as the wider economy, externalities will occupy a central role for the foreseeable future.
Green Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is no longer a distant dream. GreenTouch, a global consortium organized by Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, is spearheading an initiative to innovate and create technologies that will allow networks to achieve an increase in energy efficiency by a factor of 1000. The hope is that the energy required to power today's communications networks, the internet included, for one day will eventually be enough to last... three years.
The ever expanding palette of tools available to national authorities in their struggle to meet the energy needs of the future has grown to include fiscal incentives, quotas on production and the creation of feed-in tariffs on renewable energy sources. European Commission directives on the harmonization of renewable energy policy have taken on a greater urgency and as the measures implemented gain traction it would be wise to look back at the road already travelled and take the measure of the success or failure of decisions by focusing on the paths followed in Germany, Spain and France.
The failure of the Copenhagen climate change summit to formulate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol has cancelled hopes for the foreseeable future for any enforceable regulatory framework to deal with the global warming issue worldwide. Commentators have pointed the reticence of emerging economies along with recalcitrance of the US administration and the lobbying of powerful industrial interests. In Europe, Tax commissioner Semeta's proposal for a future EU carbon tax was placed on the backburner due to uncertainties on its economic effects. Observers have thus been left with three overriding questions: Where are we in the theoretical debate? What could be the next steps in the development of a low carbon fiscal model? What will be the economic impact of any future changes?
In the coming years, a huge "green" market bubble will emerge, driven by a pervasive fear of global warming, a panic away from oil, and U.S. government policies. Companies without a legitimate sustainability initiative will then face increasing difficulties as resources, including investments, begin to flow away from them and toward green businesses. As such, executives need to be achieving significant carbon reductions today to prepare for that upcoming shift.