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Major Trends and Challenges in the Clean Energy Niche - A Cleantech Leader Survey

on • 4 min. read

By Mike Casey and Noah Ginsberg

What were cleantech leaders thinking in 2017?

Earlier in the year, Tigercomm conducted a Cleantech Leaders Survey to shed light on the major trends that leading cleantech executives are seeing in the industry. All the participants were current CEOs, presidents, board members, or managing directors of leading cleantech companies. These views were gathered before passage of the major tax bill; nonetheless, we believe their insights remain relevant and illuminating, given the tax bill’s minimal impact on the companies these leaders run.

There’s a Shortfall of Mainstream Media Coverage of Cleantech 

Almost every participant pointed out that mainstream media outlets don’t cover the cleantech sector enough. When those media outlets do cover cleantech, they often overlook important developments in the industry or create narratives of false equivalency by framing cleantech as largely a climate-related issue. Participants pointed to reporters’ tendency to talk about renewable energy technologies as still overly dependent on subsidies, even though the U.S. oil industry receives $21 billion in subsidies annually and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is busy pushing more support checks to the subsidy-laden coal industry.

Oil Change International (2014): “Cashing in on All of the Above: U.S. Fossil Fuel Production Subsidies under Obama.” 

It’s also worth noting that despite receiving billions in taxpayer dollars, the fossil fuel industry doesn’t support nearly the number of jobs the cleantech industry supports; clean energy jobs now outnumber fossil fuel jobs 5 to 1. And cleantech is one of the country’s fastest-growing industries, with renewable energy creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. The bottom line is that cleantech CEOs want to see more accountable and accurate reporting of their industry in the mainstream media. This is not just important for their industry, it’s important to communities across the U.S. that benefit from the growing clean economy.

Lack of Investment in Energy Efficiency Technologies 

CEOs and participants across the board in our survey explicitly mentioned cost reductions in renewable energy as the main driving force powering the clean economy. A recent Motley Fool article sums this point up perfectly: “Wind and solar energy are the lowest-cost options in most of the U.S., and that'll make it very hard to stop the renewable energy freight train from running over fossil fuels.”

Nearly half of the CEO participants stated that energy efficiency remains an untapped market opportunity. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that $231 billion was invested in energy efficiency technologies worldwide in 2016, which was a significant increase from the previous year. But with recent renewable energy research studies suggesting that the U.S. still wastes well over 50% of its energy, there are still significant investments to be made into energy efficiency technologies and businesses.

Utility Leaders are Only Slowly Shifting their Views on Renewable Energy.

Nearly all the Cleantech Leaders Survey participants recognized that many utilities are turning to renewable energy. But nearly 1/3 of the survey participants shared concerns that utility leaders still do not fully understand the business case and benefits of renewable energy. One participant said: “Many utility leaders are intent on retiring and never having had to become experts in renewable energy. They are relying on the next generation to become those experts, but they aren’t cultivating that area of leadership in the next generation.”

The good news is this is likely changing, albeit more slowly than cleantech executives want. Utility Dive’s fourth annual State of the Electric Utility (SEU) survey found that “more than 80% of North American utility employees expect renewable energy to increase moderately or significantly in their service areas over the next decade.”

Cleantech Leaders are Using Newsletters and Aggregators to Stay Up to Date

Cleantech company executives must stay updated on developments in the cleantech industry and are increasingly turning to daily and weekly news roundups for information and industry updates. Participants said they relied heavily on Greentech Media, Solar Wakeup, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and Utility Dive for industry information and news. But overwhelmingly, they were reading condensed analysis more than long-form articles.

Learn more about Tigercomm's work with cleantech companies here.

 Get the Citi Report on Clean Energy Infographic.