Clean technology (cleantech), often used interchangeably with the term greentech, has emerged as an umbrella term encompassing the investment asset class, technology, and business sectors which include clean energy, environmental, and sustainable or green products and services.
Cleantech is any process, product, or service that reduces negative environmental impacts through significant energy efficiency improvements, the sustainable use of resources, or environmental protection activities. Cleantech spans many industry verticals and is divided into the following segments:
- Energy generation
- Energy storage
- Energy infrastructure
- Energy efficiency
- Water and wastewater
- Air and environment
- Manufacturing / Industrial
- Recycling and waste
Products or services associated with cleantech are those that improve operational performance, productivity, or efficiency while reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste, or environmental pollution.
The African continent has the largest population growth rate in the world. According to the UN, by the year 2050, annual increases will exceed 42 million people per year and the continent’s total population will reach 2.4 billion. As the African population continues to grow, there will be greater strain on the environment, coupled with a higher need for resources to support population expansion. Africans need to transition to more sustainable practices when it comes to the production of energy, food, etc., as well as the disposal of waste. To date cleantech innovation on the continent has been centred around energy generation, with companies such as Kenya’s M-KOPA emerging as market leaders in providing affordable solar power to low income communities.
Entrepreneurs on the continent have the opportunity to innovate beyond energy generation. Shisalanga Construction, a South African company recently launched a pilot project to build a road using recycled plastic waste. Prefabricated plastic roads are 60 percent stronger and last up to ten times longer than conventional asphalt roads. The cost of constructing them is also significantly lower. Implementing this technology will help reduce plastic waste, in a country where the average person uses between 30kg to 50kg of plastic per person every year, according to statistics by the World Wide Fund for Nature. The cleantech ecosystem in Africa is also growing, along with associated funding. Nigeria’s Outlier Venture Lab is an example of a business accelerator focused on supporting Cleantech startups.