Tuesday, 3 July 2007

'Clean Tech Revolution' review

This timely tome from Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder of the Clean Edge research firm provides a handy reference for pretty much all things cleantech*, as of early 2007. There's a decent overview of the state of the market in eight key areas, plus general advice and comment.

The book's introduction sets out the stall for the cleantech opportunity, emphasising that it's already happening. Pernick and Wilder spell out what they call the six Cs that are driving investment - Costs (falling as production scales up); Capital (big influx from public and private sectors); Competition (as national and local governments try to develop sector clusters); China (demand for resources, and need to deal with development problems - India etc also count here); Consumers (demanding cleaner products and services); and Climate (with the evidence very much on the side of anthropogenic global warming, businesses are taking action now to reduce the threats and mitigate the costs).

The bulk of the book then details eight major clean technologies: solar energy; wind power; biofuels and biomaterials; green buildings; personal transportation; the smart grid (ie, microgeneration and related tech); mobile applications (ie mobile and off-grid power sources); and water filtration. The authors explicitly exclude "clean coal", with the possible exception of coal gasification, and nuclear power, on the basis of long-term costs.

Each tech gets a dedicated chapter, starting with a little real-world scene-setting, followed by a reasonably thorough rattle through the latest technologies, applications and investment and commercialisation issues, wrapped up with a list of ten companies to watch from around the world. It's a fine set of primers on the various areas, reading like a series of features from one of the better US business magazines.

There's then a couple of chapters on general cleantech issues - nothing really new here, but a handy addition. First comes a chapter on developing a local cleantech cluster, with advice for both public and private sector players, and a brief look at some emerging centres (including, outside North America, Freiburg, Copenhagen, Shanghai and Hyderabad) - one could do worse than slap this onto the desks of the UK's various development agencies. Then there's "five key lessons" in cleantech marketing, focusing on selling a once-niche proposition to the mainstream - all pretty common-sense stuff.

The book wraps with a potted return to the introduction's argument, adding a six-point action plan for investing to build a secure and sustainable cleantech future. The plan includes calls for more venture investors to join the fray, a greater shift of public subsidy from conventional to clean energy sources, and the foundation of a major global fund to support cleantech in the developing world.

Overall, The Clean Tech Revolution is an important contribution to the developing cleantech sector (or investment theme, or whatever you want to call it). It's a very smooth read, written in a good plain journalistic style throughout. I suspect it'll be an increasingly well-thumbed presence on my desk for some time to come.

Any criticisms are very minor and personal. The book does show signs of being rapidly put together (no pictures or illustrations, and a boilerplate-ish design), though that's a fair trade for the very contemporary content. I'd have maybe liked a little more technical detail on some of the technologies discussed, but that might have turned off the investment-oriented readers, who seem to be the prime target audience. It is rather US-centric (I suspect the closing inspirational quote from Ronald Reagan won't have the intended effect outside the States) but it would be unfair to demand otherwise - it's still a valuable read for interested UK and European investors and other cleantech players.

For more info and excerpts, see the authors' dedicated site. For UK buyers, Amazon UK is probably your best bet.

* - do people use "clean tech" as in this book, or "clean-tech" as on the Clean Edge site, or "cleantech" as here and elsewhere? It's like the dotcom (or "dot-com", or the horrible "dot.com") era all over again...

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