Introduction to Green Technology

Solar power installation with field & mountains
Philip and Karen Smith/ Iconica/ Getty Images

Green technology, also known as sustainable technology, is one that has a "green" purpose. Green is a reference to nature, of course, but green technology, in general, is one that takes into account the long and short-term impact an invention has on the environment. Green products are environmentally friendly inventions that often involve energy efficiency, recycling, safety and health concerns, renewable resources, and more.

Examples of Green Technology

One of the best-known examples of green technology is the solar cell. A solar cell directly converts the energy in light into electrical energy through the process of photovoltaics. Generating electricity from solar energy means less consumption of fossil fuels, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Solar panels are expensive and not attractive, but new inventions on the horizon include community solar groups, where renters share solar panel products, and a new spray-on photovoltaic film using perovskites is said to have the potential to convert regular window glass to solar collectors. 

Another simple invention that can be considered green is the reusable water bottle. Drinking lots of water is a healthy practice. Reducing plastic waste is great for the environment. Hence, reusable water bottles that you can refill yourself are health-promoting, eco-friendly, and green.

Green Energy 

The highest priority in many scientific endeavors is the development of green energy, a burgeoning field that combines the considerations of economy, energy, and the environment to provide sustainable "green" energy sources. Since the invention of the steam engine kicked off the Industrial Revolution, the planet has suffered rapid changes in the climate. Measurable climate change effects today include increasingly severe droughts, high water loss in groundwater reserves, seawater acidification, seawater level rises, the rapid spread of diseases and macroparasites affecting livestock and the extinction of species. 

However, new technologies of green energy must be used alongside the use of the old to prepare for the transition: non-renewable resources currently make up 80 percent of the world's energy requirements, and that is overall not sustainable. 

Principles of Sustainability 

There are three principles which define sustainability in any type of material, as described by the American ecologist and economist Herman Daly: 

  • nonrenewable resources should not be depleted at rates higher than the development rate of renewable substitutes
  • renewable resources should not be exploited at a rate higher than their regeneration levels
  • the absorption and regeneration capacity of the natural environment should not be exceeded

Nonrenewable energy resources include nuclear, hydrogen, coal, natural gas, and oil: all of these currently fail the definition of sustainability in one way or another, but most painfully in the ability of the environment to absorb and regenerate the expenses related to their extraction or production. 

Renewable energy sources include water, biomass, wind, solar, and geothermal; but they are currently not exploited at adequate levels to replace the nonrenewable sources. That is seen by many in the energy industry as both a challenge and an opportunity. 

Why Should Inventors Think Green

The world has a fixed amount of natural resources, some of which are already depleted or ruined. For example, household batteries and electronics often contain dangerous chemicals that can pollute the groundwater after disposal, contaminating our soil and water with chemicals that cannot be removed from the drinking water supply and the food crops grown on contaminated soil. The risks to human health are great.

Go Green: If Not for Love Than Profit

Inventors should know that green inventions and clean technologies are good business. These are fast-growing markets with growing profits.

Consumers should know that buying green inventions can reduce energy bills and that green inventions are often safer and healthier products. 

Unfortunately, the adoption of green technologies, particularly green energies is a difficult sell in some locations, because the recognition of the damage associated with climate change is used as a political football and the source of much deliberately fostered debate muddying the institution of these plans.

However, a growing and vibrant community of scientists and politicians are leading the way to find new sustainable resources and a balance between the old and the new.