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September 3, 2013

Report: Cleantech leads Maine technology sectors in growth

The full E2Tech report and a summary version are available online.

Defining the sector

Amid the loosely defined terms like "green" and "eco-friendly," a report by industry group E2Tech aims to give a clear definition to the emerging sector of "clean technology" in Maine.

To fit into that category, the study uses the following guideline: The company or organization must focus on the production, not the deployment, of technologies that have an environmental benefit.

In its definition, the study also includes companies along the supply chain, as long as those suppliers' products have a unique environmental benefit (a company providing screws for a piece of clean technology, for example, would not fit into the cleantech category).

The report sets out the industries within the cleantech sector as follows:

Renewable energy

Biofuels
Biomass
Geothermal
Hydro-kinetics
Solar
Wind

Energy efficiency

Lighting
Smart buildings
Smart grid

Transportation and alternative fuels

Batteries
Materials
Vehicles

Advanced materials (biobased)

Bio-based plastics
Green chemistry
Nano-materials

Environmental services

Environmental protection, pollution prevention
Environmental remediation
Recycling and waste management treatment

A summary of the report is available here.

The emerging sector of clean technology has grown faster than Maine's overall economy in the last decade and outpaced all other technology sectors in the state, according to a report released today by E2Tech, Maine's energy and environmental engineering industry group. That momentum is being cited as a reason to foster the sector's growth.

"It's an exciting time for cleantech and it will only get more exciting," says Jeff Marks, E2Tech's executive director.

Jobs in clean technology, which includes companies making products or providing services with an environmental benefit, grew 31% from 2003 to 2010, a period during which overall job growth in Maine was nearly 1%, adding just 1,850 jobs during the same period, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Figures from a 2011 study by the Brookings Institution indicates cleantech companies added 2,914 jobs from 2003 to 2010 in Maine, amounting to 12,212 jobs statewide in 2010. Those figures, which are cited in the E2Tech report, make cleantech the fastest-growing technology sector in Maine.

The pace of growth mirrors national trends. Across the country, cleantech jobs grew by 27% over the same period. Within the sector, however, the study's authors say the sector in Maine has unique challenges and opportunities.

"We've got our own areas of specialty and there are things that are happening in other places that aren't happening here," says study co-author Catherine Renault, principal of Innovation Policyworks LLC and former director of the Maine Office of Innovation under Gov. John Baldacci.

Renault says the University of Maine's pioneering work in cellulose nanofibers has received international interest, as has the pioneering work in offshore and tidal wind power from companies like the Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co.

"There are a number of leadership positions that we have in some of these technologies," she says.

While projects in those areas have drawn headlines and international attention, the job growth of the cleantech sector from 2003 to 2010 has come primarily in the market segments of sustainable forestry products (750 jobs) and green architecture and construction services (172 jobs). Over the same period, the biofuels and biomass segment had the largest annual growth, nearly doubling jobs in that sector from 55 in 2003 to 99 in 2010.

Looking ahead, the E2Tech report says that cleantech companies expect continued growth.

In a survey of 180 Maine cleantech companies conducted last winter, the study's authors found that about 43% of respondents saw revenues increase 10% or more in the last year and that nearly 70% of those firms expect their revenues to increase by at least 10% in the next year.

That same survey found that nearly one-quarter of respondents planned to expand their facilities or purchase new equipment in the next year. Over half predicted they would expand or buy new equipment in the next three years.

While the majority of that growth has been driven by renewable energy and environmental services companies, the study's survey of patents and research grants suggests that the areas of advanced materials could provide another boost to Maine's cleantech sector.

The E2Tech report does not make any specific policy recommendations, but its authors say their research intends to show lawmakers the increasing importance of cleantech companies to the state's economy.

And among E2Tech's members, Marks says, there is consensus that increased funding for early-stage technologies and research and development would most help the industry grow.

The study highlights that the Maine Technology Institute has put nearly $2.4 million into the cleantech sector since 2007, but other sources of Maine-based funding are becoming harder to find. The report says that investments from venture capital groups, like the Maine Angels, have slowed overall since the state's Seed Capital Tax Credit program reached its $30 million cap last year.

"I think there needs to be a strong focus on the types of programs that lead companies from the early stages and through the R&D process and a focus on getting their products and technologies to market," Marks says.

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