Clean energy market to clean up

Clean energy currently constitutes a small fraction of the energy market, but it's about to take off.

Global warming and high oil prices will help the clean-energy market to more than quadruple by 2015, according to a new report.

The report, from consulting and analysis firm CleanEdge, predicts the market will grow from the current $39.9 billion to $167.2 billion in the next nine years. It asserted that a number of trends will cause a growing interest in solar, wind and other forms of energy that don't revolve around fossil fuels.

Two years ago, only a few firms were interested in alternative energy. But now, large companies, such as General Electric and Archer Daniels Midland, are investing more heavily in so-called green technologies. Venture capital firms are also placing more bets on it.

Customer demand is growing as well: For the past several months, solar panel manufacturers have been hampered by a lack of silicon. Political leaders from President Bush to British Prime Minister Tony Blair have also touted alternative energy.

Several alternative energy fields will benefit from the trend. Revenue from the manufacture and sale of biofuels like ethanol will grow from $15.7 billion now to $52.5 billion by 2015. Revenue from turbines and other wind-energy equipment will grow from $11.8 billion to $48.5 billion while solar will grow from $11.2 billion to $51.1 billion.

Fuel cells, which are still in the development phase, will grow from $1.2 billion to $15.2 billion. A significant portion of the revenue will come in the form of government research grants to start-ups and other fuel-cell specialists.

Companies that produce sensors to better manage energy usage will also do well.

A green future is not preordained, said CleanEdge. Manufacturers in the various alternative energy fields will have to overcome different technical challenges and woo consumers.

Most of the world's energy will also continue to be supplied by coal, oil and natural gas, according to organizations such as the International Energy Agency. Among other problems, no one has yet developed a cheap and adequate alternative to oil and gas for transportation, according to the IEA.

Still, oil companies will also continue to develop products--such as gas-to-liquids fuel for cars--that will pollute less.

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