Consumer cleantech market could hit $104B

(By David Ehrlich) - Two new surveys find consumers want to buy more cleantech products, but suggest leading brands may not yet have emerged.

This could be the year for big consumer cleantech spending, with a new survey estimating that people could go shopping for $104 billion worth of green goods in 2008.

A latest U.S. National Technology Readiness Survey found that 71 percent of adults are interested in green technology, but said there is a large gap between the number of products consumers own now and the number they say they would like to own.

The annual survey, covering cleantech for the first time in its latest edition, was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and Great Falls, Va.-based technology research firm Rockbridge Associates.

Charles Colby, president of Rockbridge, said the survey showed “that there is a very strong commitment among consumers to the environment. But very interestingly, they also are interested in green technologies.”

He said a chunk of the money could be spent on new cars.

“About half of that is in transportation technologies, like hybrid vehicles, and biofuels, and energy saving vehicles. About $50 billion worth.”

Other technologies that could get a piece of the potential action according to the survey are home automation systems for things like lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as solar water heaters, solar home heating, home water purification, high-efficiency cooling, high-efficiency heating and energy-saving light bulbs.

“Things that just support a green lifestyle,” said Colby. “If you look out across all of those, we’re looking at a very substantial market, or market opportunity for companies that will offer these products.”

Solar home heating comes in at the No. 2 spot in the survey, with a market potential of $20.6 million.

P.K. Kannan, director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, said that we shouldn’t expect the survey’s estimates to come to fruition overnight.

“It’s important to realize that consumers, when they are faced with different attributes that they want to adopt, they not only look at the attributes that are beneficial to them, but they also look at issues such as affordability.”

Kannan said the current pricetag premium of hybrids over regular cars is an example where cost is an issue.

“This may appeal to a certain segment who can afford these kinds of cars at those prices at which they are being sold, but think about the case when hybrid cars are available at a $1,000 premium, instead of the 10 to 15 percent premium that we are talking about.”

He said the price drop would appeal to the mass market much more, with manufacturers being able to sell these kinds of products much faster, and it would diffuse in the market much quicker.

“This is where green innovation really plays a big role,” said Kannan. “Innovation is not coming up with attributes that can be tacked onto existing products. Innovation is bringing these green technologies to products, to existing products, at relatively affordable prices.”

Even with those price drops, consumers may not take a company’s word on green commitments, according to a separate survey from Washington, D.C.-based EcoAlign.

The strategic marketing agency’s third EcoPinion survey, just released, said consumers largely have a neutral, wait and see stance on committing to any particular brand when it comes to leadership on renewable energy, energy efficiency and the environment.

Earlier this year, a report from EcoAlign found that 54 percent of the respondents surveyed had not adopted some form of cleantech largely because they didn’t understand it.

The National Technology Readiness Survey said environmentally conscious consumers were very high users of technology, particularly social media technology.

“I’m talking about things like MySpace or LinkedIn, or using blogs. And this is probably a medium by which the green tech leaders will influence others,” said Colby.

But they may need to ratchet up their Web 2.0 cleantech proselytizing, as Colby said they’re not the only ones putting their message online.

“The other group, interestingly, that has a high incidence of use of this type of media are the anti-greens,” he said. “And that might be a way of influencing the public with a different kind of message.”

The Robert H. Smith School and Rockbridge said the survey was based on a random sample of U.S. adults, 18 years or older.

The two organizations conducted telephone interviews with 500 people, and Web interviews with 525 people. They said the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three percent.

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