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Clean tech headed for $7 trillion investment

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Those good folk over at CERA (that’s the Cambridge Energy Research Associates and also the Spanish word for wax, although Greenbang doesn’t think the two are related) have been studying the affects of everyone’s interest in climate change and the stopping thereof, and they’ve come up with a mighty prediction for future investment in clean energy.

That number? It’s a mighty – oh so mighty – $7 trillion by 2030. Unsurprisingly, CERA reckons the big drivers for the investment are public policy changes, the rising cost of fossil fuels and green tech becoming mainstream.

Here’s some more highlights from the report:

— Biofuels. Development of biofuels is rapidly growing around the world, driven by rising global oil prices and transportation demand. Support for biofuels is also driven by interest in promoting domestic agricultural sectors. Based on the state of current technologies, however, biofuels promise to displace a relatively small fraction of petroleum, owing to twin constraints: competition for land with food crops and relatively high production costs. More petroleum could be displaced if next generation technology is developed that converts more plentiful nonfood biomass into fuel and expands the useable crop base, but significant cost and technology hurdles must first be overcome. Biotechnology may surprise and shine a light on the appropriate solutions.

— Biomass. Europe continues to lead the way in biomass power growth for electric generation through its bioenergy policy initiatives. Cost-effective, dedicated biomass crops would create a breakthrough for this technology.

— Geothermal power. Current trends indicate that new geothermal power projects should increase installed capacity by 50 percent or more in the next five years as the number of countries with geothermal power operations roughly doubles to over 40. Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), commonly known as “hot rocks,” may hold the greatest potential for expanding the role of geothermal energy. EGS takes advantage of the heat locked in impermeable rock layers deep below the earth’s surface through artificially created geothermal reservoirs. Although EGS technology shows great promise, it is still in a formative stage of development and must overcome a number of challenges before becoming a viable energy source.

— Concentrating solar power (CSP: 11.20, +0.07, +0.62%). CSP is a large-scale, centralized power production technology that concentrates sunlight to generate heat that is used to produce steam-generated electricity. Although solar PV is more widely known, CSP technologies are actually much less expensive and more appropriately sized for utility-scale generation. However, they still require subsidies in order to compete in the marketplace. Emerging CSP technologies can be equipped with thermal storage systems that reduce the impact of solar energy’s intermittence.

— Ocean. The enormous energy potential of ocean resources is unlikely to provide a significant contribution to world electricity supplies for the next few decades owing to the early-stage nature of the technology. Successful demonstration projects, cost reductions and policy development on standards for resource use will be required to advance the growth of ocean energy. However, successful projects could have an impact on a local level, and within the next half century a tidal power plant with a capacity as big as or bigger than the Hoover Dam or the Yangtze River Dam is possible.

— Carbon capture and storage (CCS: 22.95, -0.05, -0.21%). Carbon capture and storage is a combination of technologies that holds promise of bringing fossil fuel combustion into the clean energy portfolio. If done on a large enough scale, capturing and effectively storing CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere could fundamentally alter the carbon footprint of conventional fossil fuels. Even in the best case, CCS is at least two decades away from large scale deployment. Carbon capture technology is likely to advance well ahead of storage technology. Technical hurdles to carbon capture will be addressed in technology trials over the next decade while the associated political, regulatory and legal issues are worked out.

— Nuclear. Nuclear power is an important part of the world’s current electricity mix, providing 15 percent of global power generation. Future prospects for new nuclear construction, buoyed by growing concerns over climate change and energy security, could support new nuclear build of up to 700 GW of installed capacity by 2030. However, many challenges lie ahead with regard to policy, capital costs, waste management — and public opinion. There is always the risk of a major safety incident or a successful terrorist attack which could seriously impede the progress of nuclear power.

— Hydropower. Many developing economies and power systems are following the path set by the developed economies and maximizing their domestic hydroelectric potential to support economic development. Like nuclear, hydropower currently provides a significant portion of global power generation (16 percent) and is also poised for growth over the next few decades. Particularly in developing economies in Asia and Latin America, up to 600 GW of new capacity could be added through 2030. Hydropower engenders controversy, however, based on the social displacement and environmental impacts associated with large-scale dams and reservoirs.

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