There is little doubt in the demand for clean tech and clean energy in today’s marketplace. However, a host of barriers stand in the way of clean tech’s path to mainstream integration.
As far as clean tech clusters are concerned, the Upper Midwest is best known for wind production. One of the main challenges of mainstream wind energy production is the fact that wind is so widely dispersed amongst the five states that are producing wind energy in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin). In order to generate the wind power necessary for significant energy, the wind must be generated from a concentrated region. When it is spread across several states, it makes the central processing and production of the wind much more difficult.
To address these concerns and to improve transmission capabilities to consumers, the CAP-X 2020 project aims to strategically place transmission lines for increased transmission. However, this Minnesota-based initiative is not on a large enough scale to transmit wind energy to the eastern United States.
Another challenge facing the clean tech sector is the tension amongst the key industry players. The lack of communication and unwillingness to collaborate has stalled many wind projects. Some players have overloaded the system with an abundance of wind projects, and other players want to rationalize the system to eliminate these overloads. Some partners are doing nothing while others want to do more, but are limited by their roles. Overall, these players are struggling to collaborate, and in a new industry like clean tech, collaboration is essential to help players succeed.
As the industry players try to sort out their differences, they will also have to worry about a growing threat to the industry. Stories have been circulating in the media about the negative effects of these high-voltage transmission lines. Citizens are growing concerned that these projects will do more harm than good. The Citizens Energy Task Force claims that power lines interfere with bird migration, hurt tourism and damage the ecosystem. While these power lines also include coal, the main criticism is on these new CAP-X 2020 lines that are being constructed.
Finally, one of the other major barriers for clean tech is inadequate regional governance. Regional governments all have different beliefs about clean tech payoffs and strategies. These differing opinions have caused many local governments to freeze projects or not do anything at all. Clean tech infrastructure upgrades are very reliant on the help of regional governances. However, with so few of these governances agreeing, clean tech could face its greatest challenge of all.
No matter how many technical barriers the industry overcomes, it must clear the government buy-in hurdle. If these regional governments cannot agree, then they must consider allowing the industry to move forward without interfering and delaying mainstream integration.
Alfred A. Marcus is the Honeywell/Edson W. Spencer Chair in Strategic Management at the Technological Leadership Institute and Professor of Strategic Management and Organization at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.