Clean tech has obvious environmental benefits, but could it have economic benefits as well?

The push by world governments to lower carbon emissions is viewed by some as financially hazardous, demanding considerable investment in new technologies in an economy that always seems to be in some state of distress.

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However, a new study indicates that clean-tech investment can actually increase economic growth.

Researchers at the Imperial College Business School and London School of Economics and Political Science argue that a breakthrough in one area of clean technology is more likely to affect other areas, creating a sort of cascade effect.

2015 Kia Soul EV enters production

2015 Kia Soul EV enters production

When company develops a new product or process, its results can be applied to work at other companies in what researchers call a "knowledge spillover."

The study's authors claim this is more likely to happen in clean-tech industries because their newness makes it easier for unorthodox ideas to gain traction than in more established industries.

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Note that in this study researchers considered smartphones and other digital devices to be clean tech, along with energy-generating technology like wind turbines, or transportation technology like electric cars.

In fact, a prominent example of "knowledge spillover" cited was Apple's development of the now-familiar smartphone screen, which was quickly copied by other companies.

Most likely in that category is the beneficial relationship between batteries for electric cars and stationery batteries that will allow widely dispersed energy storage at a variety of locations, from individual homes to huge utility sites that can store and buffer unpredictable supplies of renewable energy as it's generated.

2014 Tesla Model S in China

2014 Tesla Model S in China

However, that doesn't mean a similar phenomenon isn't possible in the car industry, although the spreading of ideas is more likely to take the form of more-defined joint projects.

Earlier this year, electric-car maker Tesla Motors released its patents to the public, attracting some interest from BMW and Nissan.

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Nothing substantial seems to have come out of talks among the three automakers yet. But they've generated speculation that the two established makers could take up Tesla's Supercharger DC fast-charging standard.

Tesla has also supplied powertrains to Daimler and Toyota for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive and Toyota RAV4 EV compliance car, respectively.


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