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Post-Copenhagen, Cleantech Industry Needs to Reconsider Goals

Last week's Copenhagen climate conference has already been criticized extensively for failing to accomplish anything substantive. Many world leaders and environmentalists hoped for a global deal against greenhouse gas emissions; what they got was a document devoid of any firm goals.

The industrial world was likewise disappointed, but for a different reason: companies need to make long-term projections, but they'll remain uncertain of the future as long as the meandering diplomatic process seen in Copenhagen remains in force.

Renewable energy companies could suffer the worst. The hope going into Copenhagen was that the world would come away with a carbon trading scheme. With that done, the price of coal, gas and oil would slowly begin to rise, allowing biofuels, solar power, wind and other clean technologies to become cost-competitive.

But in the aftermath of Copenhagen, the price for carbon permits traded in the European Union has tumbled. There's some hope that the United States will begin its own trading regime, but the result is uncertain -- and anything passed will likely remain weak until a stronger global agreement is secured.

So what's left to hope for? While some solar companies say they're close to grid-parity, most renewable energy is not cost-competitive yet. That leaves government subsidies and mandates.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today about shifting strategies from big companies like General Electric:

...some businesses say these policies could play a major role in fostering so-called clean technology, which includes non-fossil power sources, such as wind turbines, and related know-how, such as software that equips energy grids to cope with intermittent bursts of power from solar cells...

The adoption of renewable-energy standards, completed or under way in many states, should boost demand for technologies that make electrical grids more efficient, says Dan Adler, president of the nonprofit California Clean Energy Fund, set up by the state to help spur cleantech investment.

When it comes to government incentives, there's one other way that cleantech companies can help their chances: beefed-up lobbying efforts. Cleantech companies are already a growing force in lobbying, but next year may be the year that they put all their previous efforts to shame.
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