It's the time of year when most people are evaluating recent trends and planning expectations for the coming quarters. It makes sense that we take a quick look, too, at the events unfolding in the broad, but increasingly popular, cleantech segment, which encompasses everything from smart meters and electricity grids to renewable energy and electric vehicles, among other things.
Conveniently, a Webinar hosted by Pike Research this week had lots of nuggets of information worth sharing (free registration is required to access the replay).
Let's start with the bigger energy projects winning government and utility support and likely to pick up steam (pun intended) in the coming year or two.
Yes, government budgets for large, capex projects may have shrunk as a result of the ongoing economic crisis, and there is still considerable debate around the pros and cons of nuclear energy in a post-Fukushima world. (See: Europe's Energy Picture and Germany's Nuclear Power Predicament.) But, what's also happening is that governments are now being much more prescriptive in what kind of energy platforms they want to invest in and are better defining improvement targets, noted Kerry-Ann Adamson, Pike's research director.
For instance, within the last few months, Australia, which has been less active than other countries on this front, provided a clear directional focus: improving home energy efficiency via distributed power and solar energy, Adamson said, marking a trend in Western countries to more assertively communicate the energy models they are adopting.
And, the emergence of Africa as a significant market for renewable energy and cleantech solutions and investment is hard to ignore, Adamson added. Citing statistics from Evelyn Oputu, MD of Nigeria’s Bank of Industry, Adamson said total investments in renewable energy in Africa has skyrocketed from $750 million in 2004 to $3.6 billion in 2011. Also, she said, South Africa has stated that this year it will establish a South African Renewable Initiative in conjunction with the European Investment Bank; the aim is to raise international funding for renewable projects.
Similarly, the Southern African Power Pool, a consortium of 11 sub-Saharan nations, plans by 2015 to invest another $5.6 billion for transmission projects, she added. These kinds of numbers and projects made me think there was some real momentum far from our traditional regional green hubs in North America, Europe, and pockets of Asia.
Adamson may have also been speaking in very general terms during the Webinar, but as this user-generated video on the Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) site shows, reliable sources of power and sustainable energy solutions are on the minds of individuals as well (and they should be -- we're all affected by governmental and utility-run power-generating goals). If governments, utilities, and consumers share this concern, it should well be on the minds of high-tech component and system suppliers who serve those markets, too.
Heading slightly further downstream -- from massive regional utility projects to energy management in consumers' homes -- 2012 will be the year when smart meter usage and dynamic electricity pricing models get more mind-share for many North Americans, said Bob Gohn, vice president of research at Pike, adding:
The real focus in the US, but also in other parts of the world, around smart metering and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has been about just getting the meters out there. There has been a lot of work around doing those deployments, planning those deployments, and executing on what has been, for many utilities, [getting] thousands and thousands of meters a day swapped out from stand-alone electro-mechanical meters or basic meters to these smart meters that have been getting so much attention.
We think this is the year -- and it is already starting to happening to some extent -- where the market really shifts away from focusing on deployment and making this stuff work to actually moving towards what the application of this technology actually means.
There are also some interesting things happening in the electric vehicle space. One trend worth watching is how the pricing of these kinds of cars is affecting overall sales, according to John Gartner, a research director with Pike. Although plenty of early adopters have bought new EV models that came out in 2011, the prices -- ranging from $30,000 to $96,000 -- are still way too high for the mass consumer market, Gartner said. According to a recent Pike survey, the pricing sweet spot for converting potential buyers into plug-in EV owners is $23,750.
Part of the problem is the challenge manufacturers are having with lithium ion batteries, one of the major costs of EVs. We'll look at a little bit more closely next week.