Beyond Earth Day: 10 Lasting Green Tech Trends

April 22, 2013

People and EarthConfession time: I am not a big fan of Earth Day, and I suspect many others in the green and green tech fields feel the same. I thought Earth Day was great when we were cleaning out trash-choked streams. It raised awareness when there was none. But now everyone’s got an Earth Day thing going. Stories about the environment and being green abound in the mainstream media for a few days each year.

The next logical line is that the eco coverage quickly recedes, but that’s no longer the case. There are so many concerns about the climate and controversies over natural gas fracking and exciting developments in solar and electric vehicles and other energy efficiency technologies that it’s easy to find quality coverage of green and green tech any day, year-round.

For a market some have claimed is going nowhere, I have a really hard time wrapping my arms around it. I could write about green tech issues nonstop and still have no chance of catching up. Or live out of a suitcase and go broke attending green and green-techie shows. There is almost always a show or conference going on.

My biggest concern with Earth Day, though, is that it trivializes and tokenizes what should be our constant concern for the health of our species on this changing planet. Sorry, but one day doesn’t cut it. Or one week or one month.

I once worked at a magazine for rich people, and 90 percent of our readership was male. We wanted to attract more women, so someone suggested having one department or one page per issue devoted to rich women’s stuff. Was this person kidding? We were getting angry letters from women feeling tokenized by our magazine. How do you think one page would make them feel?

If Earth Day raises some awareness, that great. But let’s stop tokenizing it. We need to raise awareness not just of the dangers of climate change and the stunning beauty of our natural world, but of the things people can do in their homes and businesses to save energy and money. This represents a huge gap that green tech marketers, utilities and service providers must overcome. We need to raise awareness of the upgrades people can make, from better insulation to more efficient HVAC systems to energy monitoring and management systems—day after day after day.

How about having an Earth Year instead?

That said, here’s our list of trends that will still be going strong, long after Earth Day (in no particular order):

Earth Rangers Lighting-relay-controller

This lighting relay controller at Earth Rangers Centre for Sustainable Technology near Toronto receives signals from the building automation system to turn on and off lights based on occupancy sensing or when natural lighting levels are low. Post on Earth Rangers Centre is coming soon.

More Building Technologies

Cities like Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Philadelphia are imposing energy disclosure rules for larger buildings, and newer building codes that states are supposed to put into effect later this year will spur better building HVAC systems, more natural daylighting with automated dimming of lights, more occupancy sensors to shut off lights and even control the growing problem of plug loads, due to our proliferation of devices. We’re already seeing some of this in select buildings, but better building codes will inspire much more.

Era of Big Data

Data analytics are being used to perform virtual building energy audits without ever stepping into the buildings, and utilities can have companies collect lots of energy info to determine where the best energy-saving opportunities exist. The use of more reliable and less expensive sensors are making these devices ubiquitous. According to reports, we currently collect only about 1 percent of the data we could. This is just beginning, folks. Companies are already talking about marketing opportunities for pushing green tech system recommendations with their data analytics, both in businesses and homes.

More Energy Management

As more data on a building or home’s energy use becomes available, building owners and some homeowners will turn more to energy management systems that monitor energy consumption and show usage and areas of concern, in widget-based dashboards that can be configured to one’s needs.


Coen Liedenbaum at Philips Research shows the first prototype TLED, providing 200 lumens per watt with high quality of light

It’s an LED World

Light emitting diodes used for lighting are finally gaining traction. LED lamps equivalent to the traditional 60-watt screw-in bulb are nearing about $10, hitting a sweet spot for home use. Buildings where lights are on much of the time, like parking garages, lots, dormitory hallways, restaurants and the like are great candidates for LED retrofits, because payback is quick and made even quicker with utility rebates. Commercial tube lighting has been the weak link, but more robust LED T8 and other tubes are becoming available, and Philips recently announced a 200 lumen per watt tube light technology, which it claims to be the most efficient warm-white LED light, though it will be 2015 before we see it. Expect to see a lot more action on this front.

Eco Means Economic

Conserving energy or being energy-efficient is no longer a greenie-weenie thing. Everyone can benefit from it. An especially compelling case is being made for energy efficiency creating better energy productivity, which in turn fuels the economy and the creation of more innovations and more energy-efficient innovations. Simply put, we do more with less, then do even more with the energy leftover. The economy grows. Welcome to the efficiency economy of the 21st century.

NewPower solar storage

NewPower’s Emergency Back-up Power System features 4.5 kw of solar PV, 8 kw of battery storage and an 8-kw generator.

Solar Everywhere

Solar leasing programs from companies like SunRun and SolarCity are gaining momentum by offering homeowners and businesses zero-money-down solar power, at a rate that’s cheaper than what they’re paying on their electric bills. This is especially true in states with good rebate programs. And solar users are more open to energy monitoring and management systems. Opportunities for the right companies exist here. And some of those companies could be energy efficiency services.

Energy Storage

Storms that knockout power and blackouts are inspiring more affluent homeowners to invest in generators and solar or renewable  energy storage systems, employing banks of batteries that can keep essential circuits in a home running for hours or days. It’s a good play for the luxury market and some commercial, and could lead to more energy management within larger homes.

Lucid Design Water Montoring

Producing energy uses water and water distribution uses energy–so conserving one conserves the other. Photo from Lucid Design’s energy and water-monitoring Building Dashboard.

Understanding Water and Energy

Another aha moment has dawned on many in regards to our water use, especially during times of drought. Water and energy are linked. Water distribution is a large user of energy, so the more water we use the more electricity must be generated by power plants. Conversely, one of the largest uses of water is for cooling power plants, so the more electricity we use … Get the picture? Many are, but this is still an area that needs better awareness. We won’t even go into the amount of water used for oil and gas fracking and what can happen to that.

Ultimately, It’s All About Health

Remember cleaning out streams for Earth Day—or at least seeing pictures of people removing trash from our rivers and streams? Not only was that powerful because it was visible, it represented a health issue. Our water was polluted. Today we have cleaner air and water, for the most part, but our most insidious hazards are invisible, like greenhouse gases. That makes addressing and engaging people in working to combat global warming more challenging. But this is a health issue at its core, from carbon dioxide emissions due to fossil fuels and our overuse of energy, to water shortages that could cause crop failures, to the need for more natural daylighting in office buildings. We at GreenTech Advocates aren’t sure a lot of people, even in this market, have embraced the health benefits of green technologies. Like energy security and independence, we feel it’s something that will get a lot more play—especially as people start caring more about their own health, as well as the health of the planet.

Triple Bottom Line

More and more businesses tout a triple bottom line of profit, the planet and people, and have become committed to sustainability measures inside and outside of their operations. True sustainability is moving beyond an annual report promotion to part of the everyday culture, though corporate sustainability officers still face large challenges getting executives and managers on board—and keeping them there.

You may also like:

MyEnergy Looks to Gamify Energy Efficiency

Green Tech Can Save Our Health

Energy Monitoring Saves on Bills in this Naturally Green Home

Take it from the Tea Party: Energy Efficiency Doesn’t Have to Be a Green Idea

Home Energy Management Through Energy Efficiency Services?

How Sustainable Technology Can Repair U.S. Infrastructure




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