More investment in cleantech is needed (Business Times)

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The following was published on December 5, 2012.  By Ron Mahabir

SINGAPORE SHOULD INVEST MORE HEAVILY IN CLEANTECH

AS WE speed dangerously along the highway of global economic growth, it has become awfully clear that we are headed for major accidents in food, water and other resource shortages, as well as increasing environmental disasters.

We just have had way too many red alerts in recent years including Fukushima, Gulf of Mexico, Katrina, floods and heat waves to not take these a great deal more seriously. It is probably more than coincidence that 2012 is on track to be the hottest year in the United States and Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record.

This is not a political hot potato that can get passed on to the next generation. We just don’t have time, and the opportunity for us to act is closing fast. We are so focused on GDP growth and the global economic mess that we’re losing sight of what’s most important – sustainability.

Yes, a lot of clean technologies failed in recent years largely due to over-exuberant capital markets, but this is a natural part of technology cycles. Think back to the nuclear winter of 2000 to 2004 when Internet companies were completely out of favour after the dot-com crash. Out of that rubble grew many Internet leaders of today including Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Skype and Yelp.

“Cleantech” has become a bad word for investors, but this makes it an even more opportune period to be making investments in the sector.

The key here is that governments and businesses need to play the primary role in accelerating change, and this requires significant commitment and investment. Over the last 100 years, most governments have been heavily involved in subsidising fossil fuels, water, food and other resources. Singapore is surrounded by countries that have chosen this route and in no way is this model sustainable.

Similar to the global financial crisis, we can’t expect markets to resolve themselves “freely” if heavy intervention created these massive bubbles. The world has benefited from “easy” resources and subsidies along the way up, and now we need unprecedented intervention and support to hope for any kind of softer landing.

With continued population and consumption growth on the planet, we’re going to need total dedication.

Singapore needs to take an even stronger leadership opportunity to invest more heavily in clean technologies around food, water and energy. Let’s not waste time in adopting solar thermal for hot water heating; solar photovoltaics, biogas, geothermal and other forms of clean energy generation; electric drivetrains and next-generation biofuels for transportation; bioplastics and green chemicals, and continued efforts in energy and material efficiency and recycling, green buildings and water management.

With scarcity of land and resources here, we need to be even more innovative in finding solutions not only for Singapore, but also those that can be rolled out in regional and global markets.

We have no other option but to take responsibility now not just for Singapore’s economic long-term viability, but for all seven billion global citizens in this new era of clean resources. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together.

The writer is the founder of Asia Cleantech Capital and CEO of Greenlots

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