Feb 3, 2022

The Age of Clean Technology

Clean Tech
Energy Transition
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You may not even realize that you are currently living through one of the most major transitional periods in human history.

In order to fully understand what’s happening today, we have to look back to just a little over 260 years ago to the First Industrial Revolution.


The First Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the early 1800s and was defined by a major global economic shift. Economists associate this change to three factors: a new form of communication, a new mechanism for transport and a new energy source.

In 1800s Britain, the invention of the printing press and the telegram, the rise of the steam-powered locomotive and the burning of coal all provided the necessary sparks to fan the flames of a new age in human history (both literally and figuratively).

A hundred years later came the Second Industrial Revolution, spearheaded by the United States: telephones, radio and television were the new ways to communicate; internal combustion vehicles served as the new norms for transportation; and fossil fuels, like oil, became the next major power source.

Well, what about today?

Well, you may not know that we are in fact living in the midst of a Third Industrial Revolution! The Internet has become the main method of communicating globally, while hybrid and electric vehicles are the new norms for transportation. The new major source of power? Renewable energy.


Renewable energy has long been dismissed as a reliable energy source because of several main arguments: a power grid based off renewables isn’t feasible, is too expensive or would hurt the economy.

Well, this is no longer the case. In November 2018, renewable energy (including wind and solar) officially became cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuels.

The costs of adopting clean tech have steadily decreased over time, with more funding funnelled research into renewable sources of energy and improvements in associated technologies. Take for example photovoltaic cells for solar panels- these cells have drastically reduced in price from $76 a unit in 1977 to only $0.50 in 2020.

This is all while fossil fuels are understood to have reached their peak efficiency, with engineers and scientific experts alike agreeing that fossil fuels have ’matured’ with little potential left to exploit.


The sun emits 470 exajoules of energy to Earth every 88 minutes, which is the amount of energy every single person on the planet combined uses in a year. If solar energy were able to harness even just 1/100th of the total energy emitted by the sun, it would give us 6x the total energy we now use across the global economy. Similarly, if wind farms collected just 20% of the wind that currently blows, this would provide 8x the power currently provided across the global economy.

These facts are accelerating a worldwide shift into the Third Industrial Revolution, which is currently being spearheaded by the European Union and China. In 2017, China accounted for 45% of global total investment in renewable forms of energy and the country plans to get 62% of their total energy expenditure from renewable sources by 2050.

Over the past decade, China has consistently been the global leader when it comes to renewable energy investment, with upwards of $800 billion funnelled into clean energy research and infrastructure in 2019.

Europe currently gets 38% of its electricity from renewable sources, with some specific countries even outlining more ambitious commitments towards an even more extreme shift to clean energy. Germany, in particular, announced that it plans to phase out coal completely by 2050. In order to achieve this, Germany intends to invest $40 billion into coal cities to retrain workers and support local economies in the face of a shift towards renewable energy.

Germany’s goal is not something to take lightly, since coal production accounts for a third of the country’s total energy! While they understand that undertaking this pledge is a massive challenge, Germany’s commitment shows an understanding that a move towards renewable energy sources is necessary not only to tackle increasingly relevant climate issues, but also in order to be a competitive commercial force in the future.


At least 18 countries have announced their intention to phase out the sale and registration of internal combustion engine vehicles powered by fossil fuels over the next decade. 40% of all car sales by 2030 are expected to be electric.

The sudden increase in electric car sales over the past decade is largely due to the rapidly declining price of lithium batteries, which cost only $132/kWh in 2021 compared to $1,000/kWh in 2010. In addition, the average density of electric vehicle batteries continues to improve at a rate of 5-7% annually.

By 2025, electric vehicles are expected to make up 19% of all passenger vehicle sales in China, 14% of all passenger vehicles in the EU and 11% of all passenger vehicles in the United States.


There remains a big point of contention about the widespread adoption of clean tech: how do we build a grid that relies solely on renewable sources of energy?

Even electric vehicles are not-so-green under the surface, given how the production of lithium batteries has a lot of negative environmental impacts and how many electric vehicles currently depend on charging grids that are powered by fossil fuels themselves.

One solution? The Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT supposes a future ‘smart’ grid that connects power sources, computers and other such devices via the Internet to collaborate to become the most efficient power grid possible, through sharing information and storing energy from renewable sources like wind, solar and nuclear.  

Consider a small-scale example: wind farms that use smart technology. In smart farms, hundreds of wind turbines don’t actually act on their own. Rather, they communicate and ‘suggest’ ways on how to best collectively act as a group, as opposed to individual turbines, in order to be as efficient as possible.

Now, imagine a scenario in which an entire country’s grid communicates with its components to optimize itself! New studies show that using the IoT grid model can increase energy efficiency by as much as 60% over the next 30 years.


Another point of contention in the discussion of clean tech concerns jobs in the energy sector: if you work in the industry and the economy shifts towards renewable energy, naturally you would expect to lose your job.

Well, industry experts already project that lost jobs will be easily replaced by new jobs in solar, wind and nuclear, outnumbering jobs in the existing fossil fuel industry by 3:1.

While some jobs in the fossil fuel industry are expected to become obsolete as global energy production shifts, it is widely understood that helping workers transition and keeping skilled workers in the energy sector will be crucial in the shift towards renewable energy. Iron and Earth is a Canadian organization calling on the government to help retrain laid off oil workers to put solar panels on top of buildings, starting with public infrastructure, like schools.  

Hanergy is a Chinese company and a global leader in providing thin solar-powered consumer goods, like backpacks, patio umbrellas and a range of other items to individuals so that they can harness small amounts of solar energy to use to power and charge their devices. This specific industry employs upwards of 3.8 million people, representing a huge economic opportunity for other countries and companies to follow.

As more and more countries and industries recognize the environmental and economic need to transition to more renewable sources of energy and cleaner forms of production, one thing becomes abundantly clear: clean tech is the way forward, and it’s time for us to get onboard… before we get left behind.

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