While startups have played a crucial role in getting the green industry off the ground, the future will likely be dominated by large, sprawling conglomerates. Why? Green technology essentially involves revamping the physical infrastructure of the modern world: replacing coal-fired power plants with wind turbines, building homes from materials concocted in chemistry laboratories, and swapping out engines for electric motors. Established companies are simply in a far better position to muster the capital, technological depth, managerial expertise and factory capacity that will all be needed to make the transition.
Familiarity plays a big role, too. Millions have flocked to play Farmville, but you won't see the same sort of giddy enthusiasm for those installing high voltage power lines or sewage-to-drinking-water plants. If the internet boom was a twenty-something billionaire, clean tech is a science teacher with a comb-over.
With that in mind, here is our list of the top ten Green Giants: the companies most likely to produce, develop and promote the ideas and products that will have the widest ranging effects.
- Communist Party of the People's Republic of China
- General Electric
- Dow Chemical
- Johnson Controls and Honeywell
Honorable mentions: Philips (lighting, electronics), Samsung (electronics, aims to be biggest solar maker by 2015), LG (whatever Samsung does, we will do too) Ford, Schneider (grid, green data centers), IBM (consulting and technology for water, grid, data centers and supply chain), Oracle, SAP (software, rampant acquirers), Chevron (oil, solar) Suntech, SunPower, First Solar (solar), Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing (contractors, project managers).
1. Communist Party of the People's Republic of China
What isn't China doing? The country has kicked off at least 13 electric car trials, issued somewhat strict gas mileage standards for cars, and set aggressive renewable energy standards. The Chinese government will invest an estimated $300 billion in green stimulus over the next decade or so, and assist the effort by direct investments in companies through its estimated $200 billion sovereign wealth fund.
Just as importantly, the government is encouraging state-owned banks and manufacturers (as well as private companies) to collaborate with Westerners. First Solar will build power plants in China and provide Chinese utilities with the know-how to build them on their own, while Intel and IBM are working with state grid companies.
Exports will climb, too. Duke and Chinese conglomerate ENN will build and manage alternative energy power plants in the U.S. Meanwhile, Chinese wind power turbine maker A-Power Technologies will build a massive 1.6 GW power plant in Texas and a turbine factory in Nevada with financing from a Chinese bank. And electric car makers BYD and Coda Automotive want to bring cars made on Chinese assembly lines to the U.S.
Japanese companies established worldwide brands with cars and TVs. China will do the same with energy. Your next job might be with a Chinese conglomerate.
Other governments -- Germany, Spain, the U.S., California -- have set up stimulus programs, too, but the one-party government and state-owned status of many companies and banks (Coda will make its car on lines in a state-owned factory and funding for its battery venture comes from a state bank) put the PRC in the category of a market participant.