Google set out to discover the effects of technological breakthroughs, and in the process discovered that strong government policies are key to accelerating their penetration into the market. Radical new battery technology and solar panels are great, but regular consumers don’t pick them up unless they're nudged in the right direction. In other words, the internet’s most successful capitalists say that the free market is all well and good, but we really need government regulation.
Here are some other things Google discovered in their analysis of cleantech breakthroughs:
1. By 2030, electric cars will have the most profound impact of all clean technologies. Google predicts they could reach 90 percent market saturation if the cost of their batteries falls to $100 per kilowatt-hour. Currently these batteries cost $600 per kWh, according to Google, but some car companies are already buying them for as little as $450. Deutsche Bank projects that price falling by half in 10 years, so perhaps Google's goal isn't unreasonable.
2. Building large systems for storing electricity is a hallmark of the renewable energy rollout — they help store energy for use at night when solar panels aren't producing, for example. But Google found that these systems are just as likely to be used to burn more coal, because coal plants could pour energy into them when power is cheap and then store it for sale when it's more expensive.
3. Adoption of renewables and cleantech depends heavily on the price of fossil fuels, especially oil. Gas at $5 a gallon means electric batteries can cost $150 per kWh and still be as popular as $100-per-kWh batteries will be when it's $3.50 a gallon.
So: as long as peak oil doesn't destroy our economy, looks like the 21st century is totally going to be the century of cleantech and efficiency! But also coal, if we're not careful.