The recent drive for CleanTech makes perfect sense.


The global population is rising annually while natural resources available to feed, clothe, and house an increased number of people are dwindling. Cities globally are expanding in size at an unprecedented rate, creating massive quantities of waste and consuming more energy. Meanwhile we still face the timeless, basic human needs — a constant supply of clean water, clean air, energy, and food.


The reality of global warming is an additional reminder that there's currently a time-sensitive opportunity to solve the problems we face as a species. The latest predictions heard by the UN state that humanity has just 11 years to prevent irreversible climate change. In response to decades of urging by climate scientists, the UN has included the need to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” in its Sustainable Development Goals(SDG).


Put plainly, we need CleanTech, because the alternative is simply not an alternative.


As resources dwindle, prices naturally rise, and governments are forced to set new environmental legislation. Meeting new “clean” or “green” targets will inevitably require change to the way organizations operate. Similarly, governments are increasingly willing to invest in CleanTech startups and jobs, helping to ease the initial financial burden of developing entirely new technologies.


CleanTech promises to help us achieve more — whatever that means for your industry or geographic location — with fewer resources, while minimizing a negative impact on the environment. It also promises to provide superior performance at a lower financial and ecological cost. To take the energy production industry as an example, one way this will be achieved is to gradually move away from the traditional “extract and burn” approach and towards a “circular economy.”


What Does the CleanTech Market Look Like Right Now?


The global CleanTech market has grown rapidly in recent years, clocking in at $1.6 trillion in 2012, and anticipated to exceed $3.6 trillion by 2025. Meanwhile, global investment in CleanTech passed $330 billion during 2018 — slightly less than 2017, but still demonstrating an active interest on the part of governments and investors.


Renewable energy has proven among the most popular areas of CleanTech so far, with global investment in renewable technologies hitting $200 billion in 2017. An incredible $2.9 trillion has been invested in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power over the last 15 years.


And if you thought investment in CleanTech was being led by the West, think again. China was the biggest investor in CleanTech projects during 2017, at a very respectable $44 billion — and that figure doesn’t even include renewable energy investment. One estimate puts China’s renewables investment during the same year at a whopping $126.6 billion.


The Indian CleanTech market is also proving a major global player, attracting over $1 billion in outside investment during 2018.


What’s Happening in CleanTech Right Now?


While it's seems clear that CleanTech plays an important role in contributing to a positive future for the planet, how much money is being invested in it?


In reality, CleanTech isn’t a single market of competing solutions and technologies. It encompasses a wide range of challenges, markets, and needs that are (and have been) solved in an even wider variety of ways.


Prime areas for CleanTech innovation include:


  • Recycling and waste management
  • Renewable energy
  • Transportation
  • Water management
  • Clean air
  • Environmental control
  • Agriculture (read our separate AgriTech article for more on this)
  • Green chemicals
  • Sustainable manufacturing
  • Environmentally-friendly materials



In other words, as a species we’re faced with a lot of environmental and ecological challenges that we’re relying on CleanTech to solve. So here are some of the incredible developments and new business models that have been developed to help save our collective skins:


Grid Parity for renewable energy sources. Both solar and wind energy have reached so-called “grid parity” in many regions, meaning they are able to generate power at a cost and performance level that rivals traditional methods. Even better, with so much investment going into the renewables market, new technologies and refinements are being developed continually to refine and improve these essential energy sources.


Meanwhile, for areas that don’t have reliable energy infrastructure — or are heavily reliant on neighboring countries to provide it — Microgrids provide energy independence, protection during emergencies, and (crucially) significant energy efficiencies. Palau, a Pacific island nation and one of the smallest countries in the world, has committed to building the world’s largest microgrid as part of a goal to produce 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. San Diego-based XENDEE has developed a toolkit for microgrid design that will make turnkey solutions available up to 90% faster and cheaper than is currently possible. Note that this innovation serves what was previously a completely unmet need.


Clean vehicles. Everybody has heard of the Tesla, but many car manufacturers have released electric cars to help reduce emissions. Starting this year, Hyundai has taken things a stage further. The NEXO, released in 2019, actually cleans the air as it’s driven, purifying an estimated 25.9 kg of air per hour.


Chemicals-as-a-Service is another new business model that sees chemical providers taking a more intimate role in their customers’ production processes. Where traditionally chemical supply has been a volatile market, with providers continually striving to ward off competitors, CaaS gives them an opportunity to “lock-in” customers through a combination of logistics and technology. And why would customers agree to that? Because when chemical providers are involved more closely with production, the actual volume of chemicals required can be reduced by as much as 30% — a win-win situation for suppliers, customers, and the environment.


A Work in Progress


With such strong incentives to innovate, CleanTech will influence the future of many established industries — manufacturing, transportation, and energy, to name just a few.


And when disruption is in the cards, it’s better to take an active role than to be carried along.


Next Big Thing AG (NBT) is a Berlin-based IoT company builder that provides a complete framework for founding, incubating, and accelerating IoT ventures. If you think CleanTech is likely to affect your industry — or that it could with your help — we can help you play a central role.


On Wednesday, the 30th of October, we’re holding an event called The World in 2030: Future Services in CleanTech. If you’re interested in how technology can shape the future of the industry while benefitting the planet — and you’re in the Berlin area — come take part.


To find out more about innovating with IoT, or if you’re interested in partnering with NBT, visit our website.