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Clean Energy Crystal Ball

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There's nothing like a new year to get a person thinking about what the future might hold. And nothing like a sub-zero but sun-drenched day in January to get a person thinking about energy of the renewable sort.

What does the future of clean energy look like?  Speaking at the E3 2010 energy, economic and environmental conference in St. Paul recently, Peter Ekberg, co-chair of emerging companies practice with Faegre & Benson, called clean energy "a driving force for economic recovery" and noted that U.S. venture capital stands solidly behind clean tech. He listed these five trends in clean energy markets for 2011 and beyond:

1. Carbon as a "Feedstock." We will increasingly tap carbon as a raw material for producing everything from algae-based biofuels to asphalt and plastics.

 2. Redefinition of the Solar Industry. Solar energy will take on new dimensions as technology advances.

3. Expansion of Biomass. Utilities will increasingly turn to biomass for applications such as district heating.

4. Increase of Project Scale. Clean energy "megaprojects" like Cape Wind and Chinese renewable energy installations will become increasingly common.

5. Growth of High Speed Rail. The greening of transportation will include expanded use of trains traveling 180 mph or faster.

Bottom line: Clean energy will become cheaper and more ubiquitous in years to come - with a predicted increase in clean energy investment globally from $144 billion to $343 billion between 2009 and 2019.

Now there's a heartwarming thought for a cold winter day.


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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.