On Earth Day, A Call for Consumer-Friendly Cleantech

By Monica Walsh

The key to making cleantech mainstream is using technology in a way no one else has thought of before. Renewable energy companies built to develop and deliver environmentally friendly solutions while making money is an excellent start but it’s time to take things mainstream.  A cool product is more than just about the chip in a box or the component in a solar panel.

GE Watt Station (Photo: GE)

Companies today need to take a fresh approach to solving the energy problem by yes, investing deeply in semi-conductor IP and software but also in design and delivery. Clean and green products need to be friendly and easier to use; functional and fun. In short, so compelling that they drive consumers to change behavior in how we live while growing the global economy all at the same time. The GE Watt Station (client) is a good example of how innovative design is used to improve consumer appeal and adoption of a “greener” way of life.

In 2010, the Cleantech Group reported that nearly 20% of cleantech venture investments were made in the areas of “smart technology.”  Let’s face it, as today’s consumers are used to instant gratification, we want more efficient lighting and less-polluting vehicles, low-cost but also clean energy generation, grid efficiency and clean water and we want it to all to be seamless, simple and integrated into our daily lives. Right now we can use our mobile phone or tablet to set the temperature of our home before we even pull into the driveway.  We need more of that but we also need to be convinced that our energy behavior should change.

There is increasing consumer awareness around managing energy usage, but more education needs to be done.  We crave ways to lower our energy costs while having a positive impact on the environment, yet we want to do it without changing our financial lifestyle and without having to spend precious time figuring out how these solutions work and what the benefits are. Who wants to prioritize groceries or a family trip over implementing solar panels or buying more energy efficient appliances?

According to a report by the ACEEE (American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy), smart meters will not do their job if we rely on the technology alone. The consumer needs good reason to act.  John “Skip” Laitner, ACEEE’s director of economic and social analysis sums it up well.

“Smart meters in and of themselves are just not ‘smart’ enough to get the job done for consumers and our economy. While advanced metering provides a useful tool to save energy, cut consumer electric bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, utilities stand to benefit from using these advanced meters to provide consumers with information on their consumption in ways that grabs attention and encourages action.”

The cleantech market, while it has matured, is still young and on the rise.  It is shaping itself much like that of the semi-conductor and PC industry did back in the day.  The difference now is that the technology industry is no longer siloed and speaking to just one segment of the market.  It now allows multiple stakeholders to be involved in continuous conversations.  As consumers are more closely connected to businesses, brands and governments, we see more and more companies engaging consumers on how technology is developed, designed, delivered and adopted in the market.  In order for the cleantech industry to scale it will depend not on innovation alone, the entry of big companies, the explosion of startups, the amount of investment or cost of the technology itself, but on how well we communicate the benefits and can make clean technologies accessible, manageable, effortless and fun for the masses to embrace and use in daily living.