1. France (ca. 20,000 B.C. Formerly named Gaul.)
Not many people realize this, but green technology is a contemporary of Victor Hugo.
In 1839, Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with an electrolyte cell. A year later, August Mouchet proposed the idea of solar-powered steam engines. Then, in 1859, 150 years ago, Gaston Plante invented the lead acid battery. He demonstrated it at the French Academy of Sciences a year later.
A wide array of companies has helped to bring France back to the forefront. Schneider Electric, the electrical services and equipment giant that served Napoleon III, has bought five companies since December. Saint-Gobain, supplier of mirrors to Versailles, invested $80M in energy efficient window-maker Sage Electrochromics.
Areva, the nuclear expert, is working in various nations on reactors. It also purchased Ausra and has retooled that company’s solar thermal technology to lower the cost. Soitec builds solar farms in the U.S. with Chevron and experiments with concentrating PV. With interest in high-speed rail growing, one can anticipate that French engineering firms will be able to export expertise. Renault Nissan became the first large automaker to strongly advocate all-electric cars.
Veolia, also from France, has begun to invest in and partner with water startups.
Why is this occurring? Europeans don’t specialize in startups. Instead, Europe tends to cultivate staid conglomerates with large research labs and employees that stay at the same company for decades. In other words, the kind of places where green ideas can get the room and time they need to develop.
Not everything comes from China.