If clean tech is so inevitable, why bother reading another word? Why not just access your brokerage account and move your life savings into a random list of solar, wind, and biofuel stocks? Because, to put it bluntly, hot markets are dangerous markets. When the reasons for investing in a given sector are this compelling, con artists and delusionals come out of the woodwork. In the coming decade, we'll be inundated with breathless accounts of new clean technologies that are sure to save the planet and make early investors rich beyond imagining. And the financial community—which, in a perfect world, would act as gatekeeper to protect investors from the untried and unwise—will become the main facilitator of the boom. Venture capitalists will feed these sure things to investment bankers, who will sell them to stock brokers, who will sell them to us.
Think back to the dot.com era for a sense of green tech's future. During the second half of the 1990s, virtually any company with even the vaguest relationship to e-commerce got venture funding and then was taken public by unscrupulous investment bankers, and then sold to credulous investors seduced by the promise of easy money. As it turned out, the Internet has worked as advertised, changing the worlds of entertainment, shopping, and communication almost beyond recognition. But the vast majority of people who loaded up on late-1990s tech stocks had lost most of their money by the end of 2001. Clean tech differs from the dot.coms in ways that will be explained in later chapters. But human nature is what it is. When something seems to have unlimited potential, it becomes, by definition, hard to measure and therefore hard to value. Tools for distinguishing fantasy from reality are crucial, and that 's what this book attempts to provide.
The other reason to approach clean tech with caution is that, unlike information technology, it actually encompasses many different markets and technologies, each with its own strengths and challenges. Wind and solar power, for instance, have vastly different technical attributes and constraints: wind speed and consistency versus hours of daylight, turbine durability versus solar cell efficiency, and scalability versus flexibility. Fuel cells are chemistry, biofuels biology, batteries both physics and chemistry—and soon also biology. Some of these technologies work today, some will work in a few years, and some will never work. And frequently, the viable clean technologies are competitors; if one succeeds, it may be at the expense of another. So understanding one means understanding all.
Then there 's the army of " pick and shovel" makers, including the firms that make solar cell production equipment, the miners that produce raw materials like platinum and palladium, the info-tech companies that help utilities manage their grids, and the banks and venture capitalists that finance start-up firms and create and trade carbon credits. The "green building" field alone includes makers of everything from light management systems to low- carbon building blocks to high-efficiency appliances. And because lifestyle choices figure prominently in most visions of a green future, the makers of buses, light rail, and bicycles also count as clean-tech players.
Last but not least, clean tech is global. Because of history, geography, and more far-sighted leadership, Europe, Asia, and, to an extent, Latin America have grabbed the lead in this race. Brazil, for instance, has already converted its transportation system to run on ethanol derived from locally grown sugarcane, and now has little to fear from peak oil. China is pouring resources into clean technologies that (it hopes) will prevent it from choking on its own exhaust. Japan's chip makers have become the world's biggest solar panel producers. And Europe, besides offering an array of generous incentives for renewable energy, began tightening environmental rules years ago, forcing local companies to reduce their carbon footprints and remove pollutants like lead solder from electronics. Today, as a result, many of the biggest players in wind and solar power are European or Asian. Given the amount of money and energy now flowing into American labs and start-up companies, the United States will no doubt catch up. But clean- tech money management will remain a global affair, with fund managers and private investors in any given country investing in green companies from many others.
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Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.