Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate to be invited to speak at a trio of conferences – LEDs 2010 in San Diego, the Conference on Clean Energy here in Boston, and the Advanced Energy Conference in New York.  One of the benefits of attending events like these is the ability to hear a wide range of news and opinions across the broader cleantech space.  After dozens of keynotes, panels, and presentations, a few recurring themes emerged:

Energy efficiency is stealing focus from renewables

In the constant struggle for mindshare between renewable energy sources and energy efficiency projects, efficiency seems to be gaining the well-deserved upper hand.  Solar, wind and biofuel technologies have tremendous future potential, but for efficiency the future is now.  Electrical transmission, lighting, weatherization, HVAC, and a host of other infrastructure systems are being revolutionized by new, higher-efficiency technologies and an increased emphasis on intelligent, IT-style management.

LEDs have arrived as a major driver of commercial-scale energy efficiency

It’s becoming obvious that the short-term energy impact of the LED revolution will be felt most strongly in the commercial and industrial sectors.  LED replacement lamps for the retail market will someday be a huge market, but replacing a couple of incandescent (or CFL) lamps per household barely moves the energy needle compared to replacing 1,000 HID fixtures in an industrial facility.  These extremely large-scale projects are getting focus from utilities, manufacturers, and end-customers and have the potential to spread radical energy efficiency in lighting throughout market sectors desperately in need of operating expense savings.

Utilities are leading the charge

Electrical utility companies are rapidly climbing the LED learning curve, but remain distributed along the continuum from super-reticent to super-bullish.  The structure, resources, and available expertise of their commercial/industrial efficiency teams play a huge role in determining where they are along this curve.  The most progressive utilities have deep expertise in the efficiency technologies listed above, and leverage this knowledge to educate their largest customers.  The key going forward is to facilitate knowledge sharing among utilities, so that the best-of-class efficiency projects can be rapidly replicated across the country.

So what’s ahead in 2011?

2011 promises to be an exciting year in the LED space.  The long-standing predictions of widespread LED adoption will start to come true as consumers come face-to-face with LED replacement lamps in Home Depot and other favorite retailers, and the DOE begins a massive educational push.  Meanwhile, intelligent lighting as a key enabler for “smart buildings” will gain visibility as deployments increase (both in retrofit lighting upgrades and in new construction) and as audited results become more publicized.  As someone who has been in the LED industry for a very long time, it’s exciting to see the widespread adoption and positive impact of this technology.