The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) this week released a report predicting that by 2020 the clean energy technology industry would be worth €1,6-trillion a year - ranking behind automobiles and electronics as the third-largest industrial sector.
In 2007, clean energy technology already had a sales volume of €630-billion and was larger than the global pharmaceuticals industry.
China was expected to take up a large portion of this growth in clean energy technology.
The nongovernmental organisation released the report entitled ‘Clean Economy, Living Planet - Building Strong Clean Energy Technology Industries’ at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, and said that it was the first worldwide country ranking by clean energy sales.
“The report demonstrates that the idea of a clean economy is not a fallacy but can be achieved,” said WWF South Africa Living Planet unit manager Saliem Fakir.
“This is an opportunity that still needs to be grasped in South Africa. We are waiting expectantly for the birth of the clean technology revolution in South Africa, which will see us move away from a dependence on coal,” he added.
The report found that relative to gross domestic product (GDP), it was wind energy and insulation pioneer Denmark, and bio-ethanol giant Brazil, that were leading the way. Germany, trading on a substantial manufacturing base and public support for wind and solar energy, was in third place.
China was ranked fourth in terms of absolute sales, and sixth relative to its GDP.
Sales revenues from energy efficiency products in 2007 were more than five times the revenues from renewable energy products, but WWF said that this would change significantly by 2020, with the growth rate for renewables at 15% a year being three times the still respectable 5% yearly of efficiency products and process revenues.
“This is the clean economy growth happening now with only a partial Kyoto Protocol international framework supporting clean energy development, patchy national support for green energy and huge subsidies to fossil fuel use. Imagine what is possible with a successful Copenhagen climate deal and the national mechanisms to deliver its outcomes – clean energy is where the money is going to be and this is where energy security is going to be,” said WWF global climate initiative manager Kim Carstensen.
The report advocates that countries seeking to develop clean energy technology sectors should implement ‘technology action plans’, to take technologies from research to demonstration, and bridge the gap between research institutions and industry.
“Central banks could help by encouraging the inclusion of ‘carbon risk’ into financial modeling. Access to seed or venture capital has also been a factor in the success of clean energy in the leading countries,” said WWF.
The report also emphasised the importance of developing a strong domestic market in technologies, with a strong domestic fit.
“It allows companies to experiment, gain experience and quickly traverse the learning curve – both giving them a competitive lead and providing them with reference and showcase projects,” the report said.
Governments could support such domestic markets with subsidies, renewable energy targets, and procurement policies.
Countries that could benefit from such moves included the US, ranked 18 on the GDP weighted rankings, and the UK, ranked 19. Illustrating opportunities lost, Australia - which squandered an early technical lead in solar energy – was ranked 28.
“Clearly, from a national perspective there is much to gain and nothing to lose from investing in clean energy,” said WWF-Netherlands Climate Programme manager Donald Pols.
“Forgoing these opportunities for the sake of propping up an aging, polluting fossil fuel sector for as long as its lobbying power remains significant is acting for vested interests not the national interest,” he added.