As 2016 races off the start line on full throttle, we check out the top 10 trends in technology and what they mean for players and observers of Australia's High Tech sector. The recent shift is surprising. Hint: the supercar above uses a 'saltwater' battery.
1. Renewables will become unstoppable
After years in obscurity and denial by governments, the global renewables sector received a huge shot in the arm in late 2015, when the Paris Climate Conference agreed to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the first time in history.
This was quickly backed up by US$20 billion of R&D funding for sustainable energy technologies pledged by 20 countries and more from Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and 28 other billionaire investors for high potential, high risk technologies.
In Europe and the USA, renewables have already become more an avalanche than a trend. In 2016, the renewables avalanche will become unstoppable. Just follow the money.
2. Australia will embrace renewables
We've long lamented the lack of support for renewables in Australia. As we wrote in South Australia leading the country in renewables, Canberra can’t let the states lead the charge for much longer. In addition, Western Australia’s rooftops are now the state’s biggest power station - and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has selected 22 projects from its $100 million large-scale solar photovoltaic competitive round.
ARENA CEO, Ivor Frischknecht said the funding round was well timed to drive innovation and reduce solar PV supply chain costs in Australia, where large-scale solar is still in its infancy. A promising sign - and when Prime Minister Turnbull adds flesh to the bones of his late 2015 Innovation Statement, the signs will be clearer still.
Clearly, despite patchy government support, Aussies are keen to get off the grid. In 2016 and beyond, it will be tough for politicians to ignore the appetite for renewables Down Under.
3. Homes will become Net-Zero
For new home builders, the focus will be on ‘net-zero’ buildings, which consume only as much energy as can be produced on site or which generate more energy than they use.
This is no pipe dream: a new building in Germany (image above) generates almost 5 times the amount of energy it uses: it generates 103 kWh / m² of energy a year and uses just 21 kWh/ m² of primary energy annually.
Sure, it's not exactly pretty, but think of the first model from any new car maker: never gorgeous. It's only a matter of time before innovators in Australia see the commercial opportunity, and it won't be much time at that.
4. Battery storage will come of age
To date, the uptake of solar energy has been hampered by ability to store what is generated.
In practice, it's meant that homes might sell the excess to the grid during a sunny day, only to buy it back at higher prices when the sun goes down. That's all changed with the advent of small, compact, high capacity batteries for the home.
Last year, Tesla announced a new battery pack for home use, the ‘PowerWall,’ (image at right) at a wholesale price of around US$3,500 (in the US) for 10kW of storage, which was half the price of just 6 months earlier. In Australia, the same unit sells for closer to A$10,000 now, but prices are sure to drop.
Tesla's chief, Elon Musk, agrees. He says that battery technology 'sucks and he's betting on economies of scale to reduce the price, rather than technology breakthroughs. There are several new technologies under development, but it's unclear yet how many will see the light of day.
Speaking of Tesla, how many Tesla Model S cars (image above) have you not heard gliding past on Australian roads? I've seen quite a few. At ~A$200,000 with top speed of over 200kph, this is a serious car for early adopters with plenty of money, and an appetite for conspicuous non-consumption.
More on cars: Nanoflowcell claims supercar status for its new electric car (see image right at the top) which uses battery technology based on electrolytes, or 'saltwater' as dubbed by some. Created in Lichtenstein (EUR), the styling certainly fits the bill and the video is impressive, too.
2016 will be the year that battery storage releases renewable energy, especially solar, for everyday use.
ELECTRONICS & IT
Gartner Inc lists some 10 major technology trends, including a few fuzzy concepts like the Device Mesh, Ambient User Experience, Information of Everything and more. We found 3 practical technologies with defined markets and implications for Australia.
5. Autonomous agents & social robots will march
2016 will mark the march of the robot. The Japanese robot company Softbank released its first generation of social robots, Pepper (image below), in 2015 and all 1,000 units sold out in less than a minute.
Clearly, companions that don't sleep, don't eat and don't have opinions have quite some appeal. It's reminiscent of the Tamagotchi pet craze of 1996, but social robots will have impact on many more than just Japanese schools kids.
Given the demise of traditional manufacturing in Australia, this is an opportunity for Aussie makers of industrial robotics. By adding social robots to their product lines, they could tap into new markets and revenue streams overseas, and relieve some unemployment queues back home.
6. 3D Printing will become a service
‘2016 will likely be the year that 3D printing sheds its hype and begins to appear in real business applications with compelling returns,’ says Rick Smith, a 3D Printing Entrepreneur.
3D printing is a process of making 3-dimensional physical objects from CAD files. One can make real objects through a process of adding two-dimensional layers to form 3 dimensional objects. The process is proving immensely useful for the fast prototyping of designs and ideas, and the materials used range from plastics to steel to sandstone. Applications are pretty broad too - from prosthetic prototypes to architectural models, automotive designs, car chassis and aerospace parts.
In June last year, US start-up Divergent Microfactories unveiled the Blade (image above), a 700hp super car with the chassis printed in 3D before being assembled by hand. Not bad eh?
Rick Smith stresses that 3D Printing requires a depth of expertise to produce quality results, and sees 3D-Printing-as-a-service as a better choice for all but the big manufacturers. In other words, you send your CAD files to the specialist print shop and they send you the goods a day or two later.
The opportunity for 3D Printing in 2016 will be the reality of '3D as a Service' and specific smart Aussie companies can leap onto this.
7. Wearable technologies will struggle
While clever and cool, in 2016 wearable technologies will continue to struggle for everyday relevance.
Do we really need more gadgets to keep ourselves amused while waiting for the bus or sitting on the train? There sure are plenty to choose from, but Brian Solis sums up the status quo this way: ‘ … cute and seemingly on the wrists, necks or fingers of all of our friends, wearables as an industry and market are incredibly immature ... Wearables are all over CES, but most are single purpose, redundant, cute or just plain useless. They need a killer app!’
In other words, until or unless there an app we all can't do without, wearable technologies will continue to be optional in 2016.
BIOTECH & BIOMED
8. T-cells will kill cancer cells
In late 2015, a young girl in the USA who’d failed all treatments for leukemia was cured in a clinical trial of a new gene therapy called CAR-T-Cell Therapy (Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell Therapy) .
This approach takes T-cells from cancer patients, and modifies them so their receptors to recognise cancer-specific antigens. As the journal Nature put it, ‘Using genetic modification, highly active, self-propagating 'slayers' of cancer cells can be generated.’ CAR T-Cell Therapy may have applications for many diseases that have eluded treatment so far.
The stock market certainly thinks so: Juno, one of the companies developing CAR T-Cell Therapy, went public and raised $264.6 million in the largest Biotech IPO ever. Within a month, the company’s valuation rose from $2 billion to $4.7 billion despite serious side effects being reported by The Scientist. (Image above from the Scientist).
2016 will see wider scale applications of CAR-T-Cell technology by a number of US biotechnology companies.
9. Aussie Biotechs will struggle
Compared to the USA, Aussie biotechs will continue to struggle.
A recent article in the AFR - Scared Australian Investors Miss out on Big Biotech Returns - highlights why biotech companies Down Under must put much more effort into marketing their technologies to serious local investors. But it's not a new story, but a recurring theme for decades.
Local (and global) investors in Biotech will continue to back bigger, better marketed overseas Biotechs, while Aussie Biotechs will struggle to excite them. If the Aussie habit of managing 'investor communications' continues, instead of actively marketing competitive advantages to attract major new investors, the outcome will be unchanged.
OTHER HIGH TECH
10. Veggie burgers will go mainstream
No, the world won't suddenly give up meat, but veggie alternatives will become cool, not fringe.
Last year, Google offered to buy Silicon Valley Start-up Impossible Foods for US$ 200 million. The company is ‘developing a new generation of delicious and sustainable meats and cheeses made entirely from plants … without the health and environmental drawbacks [of livestock].’ Livestock needs a huge landmass to maintain, requires 24 times more energy to produce per kilo than plants like corn, and produces nearly 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (methane). Plants are a lot easier on the environment - and that's the take-home message for marketers.
What’s new is that Impossible Foods and similar start-ups are not targeting vegetarians: they’re targeting people who love meat and dairy products. The makers say: ‘we want to have a product that a burger lover would say is better than any burger they’ve ever had.’ The idea has captured serious venture capital firms and investors that include Bill Gates. Follow the money here too. More here.
The over-arching trend I'm seeing is this: many new technologies are cool - not ugly, geeky, partly-formed or an acquired taste - which means mainstream not niche appeal. Frankly, I'm pretty excited about 2016 and beyond. The last few years have been like the Dark Ages, especially in Australia.
- Trackback Link
- Post has no trackbacks.