Green tech will be everywhere in 2018 2017-12-28

In 2017, clean power gathered unprecedented momentum. Multiple automakers launched entire families of EVs, including the most exciting one yet, Tesla's Model 3. The company also started pre-orders for the Solar Roof, a type of home photovoltaic panel that will make solar panel installations less ugly.

With climate change problems mounting, national and local governments are pushing for more renewable energy and an end to fossil-fueled cars -- despite hostile moves in those areas by US President Donald Trump. Elected officials and the public want fewer gas-powered vehicles and coal plants, and more EVs, solar panels and wind turbines. That will ultimately benefit your health, wallet and environment, and you'll be less reliant on large energy and oil corporations, to boot.

With the expectations of consumers, companies and governments all getting higher, 2018 has a lot to deliver. There are key deadlines, especially on Tesla's part, and if companies miss them, green buyers could go from exuberant to depressed. Here's what to expect on the consumer side for EVs, clean home power, battery storage backup, and more.

Solar power

Tesla is also one of the most interesting consumer solar power companies for 2017. It launched its Solar Roof in late 2016, providing an option for homeowners who want solar-powered homes but not ugly solar panels. If you're building a new home or replacing your roof anyway, the solar tiles compare favorably with pricey roofing options like slate or cedar shingles. Customer deliveries only recently started (delays with Tesla are obviously a thing), but by next year the company should be building enough to fulfill all of its orders.

Panasonic has reportedly also started building its high-efficiency, low-profile solar panels for Tesla at the Gigafactory 2, in Buffalo. Those will sell in limited numbers next year, but reportedly won't reach peak capacity until 2019.

In a new wrinkle on the sharing economy, so-called blockchain microgrids could bring solar power to the masses. A company called LO3 Energy promises to let communities buy and sell solar power generated locally, using Bitcoin-like blockchain tech to track transactions. The system works on any size solar installation, from hundreds of homes to just two. If solar power could be shared among multiple homes or businesses, it would become a lot more affordable.

Sunpower is another company to watch. It launched a new type of panel that uses a technique called "shingling" to fit more photovoltaic cells into the same space. That could result in cheaper solar panel installations for both consumers and energy companies.

Electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles

Tesla started delivering the Model 3 in July 2017 to the nearly 400,000 people who ordered one. At that time, Elon Musk promised to build around 1,500 in September, 20,000 this month, and up to 10,000 a week later in 2018. Suffice to say, that didn't happen -- not even close. By the beginning of October, the company had produced just 260 cars, reportedly because of Gigafactory battery production issues and other problems.

Things have picked up since, with large numbers of Model 3s reportedly spotted at delivery centers. On top of that, suppliers recently reported that Tesla has increased its demand for parts for up to 5,000 vehicles per week. If Tesla holds to that, it will just be a month or two behind its original schedule. Still, last quarter it produced a record 25,336 vehicles over three months (mostly Model S and Model X EVs), so 20,000 Model 3s in a single month would be a big leap.

The best-ever year for green energy

If 2018 fulfills the potential of 2017, green energy will become an unstoppable force. Any moves the Trump administration decides to make against it will only hurt the US in the short term, as green tech becomes an economic force around the world.

As The Economist points out in the video below, EVs next year could be cheaper than gasoline cars for the first time, considering overall cost of ownership.

Sales of EVs, including plug-in hybrids, could top 200,000 units in the US this year, according to Inside EVs, and surpass a million worldwide. Suffice to say that replacing a million gas-burning cars will have a big impact on atmospheric CO2 levels. Next year we could blow past that figure by July or August.

Even without big breakthroughs, battery tech keeps evolving and is bound to give us more capacity and faster charging times in 2018. Small tech and engineering gains will also make solar panels a bit better and a bit cheaper.

Beyond that, in 2019 and 2020, auto companies like Mercedes and VW will launch brand-new and formidable EV lineups like the EQ and I.D. series, respectively. By then, EVs with self-driving tech will be cheap, practical and mainstream. And with solar and wind starting to beat coal, nuclear and gas-powered plants in price, the power you use for your EV and home will be cleaner and cleaner. Will this save the planet from excess CO2 levels? Maybe not, but we have no choice but to try.

Reprint the editorial of Steve Dent