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Economy center stage in green tech at year's end

2009 ends with governments promoting clean-energy innovation for environmental reasons and for national economic competitiveness. Take a look back on the year.

As the year ends and the world's attention is fixed on climate negotiators in Copenhagen, the discussion about green technologies is as much about the economy as it is the planet.

In my annual Year in Review column, I point out that national governments are active participants in nascent emerging energy technologies, whether it be modernizing the grid or creating a manufacturing base for electric vehicles. Governments around the world this year pumped stimulus money into promoting domestic clean energy, not only to lower emissions but to position their countries' economies for the future.

Green technology professionals have always been out to develop profitable businesses. But now, it seems, they are increasingly pressing their case for clean-energy policies because of the importance of green tech in national economic competitiveness.

This is playing out at the Cop15 climate negotiations this week as well, where one of the key issues revolves around the transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries.

In one example, a delegation of smart-grid companies from the U.S. on Friday demonstrated a home energy management system to several members of Congress.

Smart grid technologies can help address environmental problems by using energy more efficiently. But the primary message that the smart-grid delegation had for members of Congress is that the U.S. needs to press faster to promote clean energy technologies, said Chris King, chief regulatory office at Silicon Valley smart-grid start-up eMeter, who was in the delegation. Europe and Asian countries have more aggressive roll-out schedules for smart meters and have made regulatory changes to promote energy efficiency, he said.

"We are ahead now but policy needs to keep pace with technology companies," King said. "We can benefit from it in the U.S. and contribute to the strength of the economy by exporting to other markets."