A large group of wind turbines making up a wind farm on land. Image Credit: majeczka/Shutterstock.com
Clean technology is also referred to as cleantech, green technology, and greentech. It defines a set of technologies that either reduce or optimize the use of natural resources, whilst simultaneously reducing the negative effect that technology has on the planet and its ecosystems.
Examples of such technologies are relatively new sustainable energy sources, such as wind and wave power, or improved conventional energy production processes, such as smart electric grids.
All clean technology solutions seek to positively impact anthropogenic climate change. It is also important for clean technology solutions to be economically viable and have the potential to become profitable enterprises to attract investment and further development.
Additionally, the technology which is currently considered to be unprofitable due to the relatively low price of oil may well become more viable in the future as oil prices become increasingly unstable.
Clean technology solutions are therefore considered profitable against a wider variety of criteria compared to other types of technology investment. Market, as well as climate forecasts, are brought to bear on clean technology investment, and the ultimate cost to life on earth of doing nothing can outweigh risks and outlays for some investors and funding agencies.
What is Clean Technology?
Key Clean Technology Sectors
The current key sectors in the clean technology industry are:
- Sustainable energy and energy optimization to reduce dependence on fossil fuels
- The provision of clean water to all who need it
- Pollution reduction
- Recycling and waste management
Sustainable Energy and Energy Optimization
Many technologies use sustainable sources of energy, or optimize energy usage to reduce dependence on carbon fuels.
- Wind power – This sustainable resource is typically exploited in the form of vast wind farms, often found offshore. A wind farm contains a large group of individual wind turbines connected up which generate electricity without producing any greenhouse gas emissions after construction.
- Hydroelectric power – This refers to the use of the gravitational force of water falling or flowing to produce electricity. Once constructed, a hydroelectric power plant will produce extremely low levels of greenhouse gases when compared to fossil fuel-based techniques.
- Solar energy – Two techniques are used to generate electricity from solar energy; photovoltaics (PV) or concentrated solar power systems (CSPs). The former uses the photovoltaic effect to directly convert light into an electrical current, whilst the latter uses lenses or mirrors to focus a beam of light directly onto a small area. This is converted into heat which subsequently drives a heat engine to generate electricity.
- Geothermal energy – This is simply the heat from the earth itself. This heat can be used similarly to the directed light beams for CSPs to heat up water to drive heat engines and generate electricity, or systems in buildings can capture the earth’s naturally occurring thermal energy for space heating.
- Smart energy – This refers to the numerous ways that energy usage can be optimized with the introduction of connected energy consumption, automated energy distribution, and responsive energy supply – all made possible with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT).
- Energy reduction – This encompasses all of the ways that energy usage is reduced from the demand side, including automated systems, human behavior management, sustainable development, and sustainable building management.
- Water treatment – This refers to the treatment of raw water to ensure that it is safe for human consumption.
- Wastewater treatment – The conversion of wastewater into water that can then be entered into the water cycle or reused is referred to as wastewater treatment.
- Emission control – There are several methods to reduce global emissions. The adoption of clean technologies, such as the sustainable energy sources listed above, as well as a transition from conventional gasoline-powered vehicles to biofuel and electric vehicles, are just a few of the suggested ways to control emissions.
- Pollutant monitoring – Air monitoring stations are used throughout the United States of America in a system called State Local Air Monitoring Stations (SLAMS) which provides annual reports on the volume of pollutants in each American state. Similar techniques of monitoring the levels of air pollutants are employed around the world, including the use of satellites and drones to create impartial, accurate monitoring reports.
- Remediation of polluted sites – When a request for environmental remediation of a location is made by government or other land remediation authorities, immediate action must be taken by the landowners to ensure the location is made safe for humans and animals. This can involve cleaning soil, groundwater, surface water, or sediment by removing pollutants and contaminants.
Recycling and Waste Treatment
- Recycling of consumer products – The majority of consumer products in today’s market have many parts or components which can be recycled. Once a product reaches its "post-consumer" stage, it should be sorted correctly to ensure it does not end up in landfills.
- Reduction and treatment of toxic waste – Often in the form of dangerous chemicals or materials, toxic or hazardous waste should be treated very carefully. Most governments have plans in place for the reduction, collection, treatment, and regulation of toxic and hazardous waste.
Underpinning the development of clean technology are developments in information and communication technology, materials science, nanotechnology, semiconductors, and electronics.
What is Clean Technology?
The Nissan "Leaf" is pictured here being recharged in Yokohama, Japan at the Nissan Headquarters.
Image credit: Joel_420 / Shutterstock.com
A collection of wind turbines forming a wind farm.
Image credit: majeczka / Shutterstock.com
A modern "clean" coal and gas power plant.
Image credit: LukFu / Shutterstock.com
Geothermal power stations use the heat from the Earth to drive their turbines.
Image credit: N.Minton / Shutterstock.com
A farm of solar panels in Spain.
Image credit: Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com
A farmer in Northern Vietnam uses clean technologies to grow vegetables.
Image credit: nguyenkhacthanh / Shutterstock.com
A modern home is built with solar panels on its roof.
Image credit: SusaZoom / Shutterstock.com
Clean Technology and Regulation
There is a global drive to adopt clean technology solutions due to the current climate emergency being declared by governments globally. This is a direct result of our reliance on fossil fuels for energy since the Industrial Revolution. Governments are adopting regulatory regimes that require industry and individuals to reduce their environmental impact.
To support these regimes, voluntary reduction schemes and carbon trading schemes are being introduced. This mounting pressure from global communities and organizations must result in a widespread adoption of clean technologies now and in the future.
This article was updated on 24th February, 2020.