Vancouver Sun

Vancouver ranks among the Top 10 new “Silicon Valleys” of the clean technology sector worldwide, according to U.S. authors Clint Wilder and Ron Pernick.

“Vancouver has emerged as a centre for the fuel cell industry,” Wilder said in an interview Thursday. “You can compare it to the early days of Silicon Valley, when companies like Hewlett-Packard and Fairchild Semiconductor started out.”

In their new book, The Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity,  Wilder and Pernick list Vancouver with Copenhagen; Chicago; Austin, Texas; Freiburg, Germany; New York; Hyderabad, India; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco and Shanghai as the world’s top “clean tech” centres.

They describe clean tech as “any product, service, or process that delivers value using limited or zero nonrenewable resources and/or creates significantly less waste than conventional offerings.”

Wilder said Ballard Power Systems not only pioneered fuel cell technology, it helped launch a “family tree” of companies, with former Ballard employees helping develop other firms.

He noted Angstrom Power director of business development Olen Vanderleeden spent eight years at Ballard before switching to his new employer.

Wilder noted Vancouver has a healthy supply of venture capital firms, like Ventures West, to help new companies grow while Simon Fraser University, the University of B.C. and the University of Victoria provide a “critical mass” of academic expertise and support.

He also said Vancouver’s quality of life attracts many bright and creative people and pointed out that the city has one of the highest percentages of bicycle commuters in North America.

The book says clean technology is evolving from an environmental issue to big business, opening a world of opportunities for companies, entrepreneurs and investors who see a chance to – yes – clean up.

The main force pushing clean tech from “utopian dreams” to new Silicon Valleys and Wall Street is simple economics: “Clean-energy costs are falling as the costs of fossil fuel energy are going up,” the authors write.

Alternative energy and building technologies are expanding, but in centers that haven’t had the cachet of California’s Silicon Valley, the launch pad for personal computers, the Internet and biotech.

Emerging clean tech cities include Copenhagen, where wind power generates 20 per cent of Denmark’s electricity, and Chicago, a leader in “green” buildings saving energy and heating and cooling costs, the authors say.

“Clean tech has roots in the Birkenstocks-back-to-the-earth alternatives in the 1970s,” Pernick said in an interview. “But the alternatives are now becoming very mainstream because corporations from General Electric to Toyota to Sharp to Wal-Mart are embedding new technologies into their current and future growth strategies.”

Pernick and Wilder break down clean tech into four main sectors – energy, transportation, water and materials – and examine business and investment opportunities.

Solar energy companies, for example, are competing for a projected $69 billion US in sales by 2016, up from $16 billion last year, while wind power growth is put at $61 billion in 2016, compared with $17.9 billion in 2006.

Surging demand for energy in China and India also is driving clean-energy, transportation, building and water-delivery technologies.

Eight sectors with the strongest growth opportunities include solar energy, wind power, biofuels and biomaterials, green buildings, personal transportation, smart electric grid, mobile applications like portable fuel cells, and water filtration, the authors say.

But they don’t tout specific stocks or securities. They prefer to lay out a blueprint of opportunities, technologies, companies and trends that may build successful businesses and strengthen economies.