10 Predictions for Cleantech and Sustainability in 2012

And It has been easy to see why. Efficiency companies, to date, have relied on a suspicious-sounding sales pitch: give us money and we will save you money. Sure you will. Luckily, efficiency-as-a-service offerings, based around the concepts underlying the solar lease, are starting to hit the market. Under these programs -- offered by Skyline Innovations, Metrus Energy, Serious Energy, Transcend Equity and others -- the cost of retrofits gets shielded from businesses or consumers. Savings are guaranteed. Studies also show that green floor space commands higher rents. It's hard to envision further objections. (Disclosure: I've performed work for Serious Energy as a consultant.)

Efficiency as a service for data centers would be HUGE.

6. The Smart Home Becomes Stupid. How do you get consumers to think about energy consumption? Do you give them sleek devices, like the thermostat from Nest Labs, or prod them with nice tips on energy savings, like oPower does? Increasingly, it will turn out that the best thing to do is do it for them.

A source in the efficiency business recently told me that one of the most effective technologies for controlling homes is turning out to be the home security system. When people leave their homes and set the alarms, the security system shuts off the heater or air conditioner. When they return, it flips the HVAC back on. No brainpower -- or necessarily money from the consumer--needed. EcoFactor, ADT, Tendril and others will go down this path.

7. LEDs Inch Toward Acceptance. Solid state lighting, to date, has mostly been sold as a utilitarian product: LED bulbs save money, last for years, etc. So far, it hasn't worked well. LEDs, however, have a sometimes overlooked attribute: people and products look better under LED light than fluorescent. More hotels and high-end retailers will adopt LEDs. The experience will -- slowly-lead to greater acceptance in the home.

8. Green Software Begins to Make Sense. Software will play a crucial role in sustainability. The problem, however, is that few people can actually visualize in their head what the market looks like. In the PC and phone market, people understand the difference between apps, operating systems and online services. But ask them the difference between what C3 and Telcordia do and -- well let's just say that in the majority of meetings I have attended people mostly just fake it.

The mental image will begin to solidify. Quick primer. The market will be divided up into companies that primarily serve utilities (Aclara), companies that will serve a broad industrial base that give companies the ability to communicate and control previously mute objects like pasteurizers (IBM, SAP) and then customer-specific vendors with applications that bring those communication and control features to life (like those in number 4 below.)

And if you fall asleep in the meeting and need to get back on track, just say, "Where's the value add?"

9. Water Will Be Like the Weather. Everyone will talk about it but few will do anything. Sadly, it may only start to take off if humanitarian crises hit.

10. Some Names That Might Make Headlines: Samsung (the Asian giant will continue to make good on its plans to be a dominant player in renewables and efficiency); LG (ditto); Target (Walmart can't get all of the credit); Siemens (expect more acquisitions); and Autodesk (design, duh.)Waste Management (more investments in recycling); Then there is the IPO trio -- Silver Spring, Enphase Energy and BrightSource Energy -- that may finally move toward an offering.

Crystal ball photo via Shutterstock.