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Looking ahead is vital for this small clever country to show the world it can be a global leader in technology.

Byline: By Dylan Jones Evans

Predictions in science and technology are always fraught with the potential for extreme embarrassment.

Never forget the case of Tom Watson, chairman of IBM, who said, in 1943, that there was a world market for "maybe five computers", or the genius at Western Union who wrote a memo stating that "this 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us".

You can also sympathise with the engineer from IBM's Advanced Computing

Systems Division who, in 1968, asked, referring to the microchip, "But what is it good for?"

Even Bill Gates allegedly stated, in 1981, that he believed that 640K of computer memory "ought to be enough for anybody".

While predictions can be hazardous, examining the emerging trends in different disciplines can give businesses and economies a vital commercial edge for the future.

Clearly, the main trend affecting society and business is that of environmentalism and it is clear the green revolution is here to stay.

Billions of pounds of investment will be going into areas that not only reduce global warming but, with oil hitting $100 (pounds 51) a barrel, to reduce our dependency on this fossil fuel.

In particular, biofuels will become more important as a source of energy, although given the pressure on food production, it is likely there will be pressure on farmers to limit the conversion of their fields for growing biofuel-friendly food crops such as corn or soyabean.

Instead, experts suggest "cellulosic ethanol" is the way ahead, which can be generated from any type of organic product.

Indeed, around two-thirds of what is thrown into landfill sites contains cellulose and, with the right science, potential fuel.

It is not surprising, therefore, that venture capitalists are investing fortunes into cellulosic-technology start-ups, and large firms are putting funding behind research organisations, such as the Energy Biosciences Institute, established in the USA through a donation of pounds 250m by BP.

Indeed, Time magazine recently suggested that green investment by American venture-capital firms reached pounds 1.3bn in the first three quarters of 2007 - the highest level ever recorded - and this looks set to grow over the next three years. Many analysts are also predicting that 2008 will be the year when there is a real breakthrough in solar technology, especially in the development of efficient and cheaper photovoltaic cells.

As a result, it is expected that the global photovoltaic market is expected to grow more than six times to pounds 20bn by 2010.

Instead of fixing small solar panels on individual houses, it is expected that large solar power plants will be established all over the world as the producing energy from the sun finally becomes financially viable, especially for heating water and lighting up homes.

Apart from these technological breakthroughs, the green revolution may have an influence on bread-and-butter issues affecting businesses and consumers.

For example, Sun Microsystems recently reported that it has saved more than pounds 500,000 a year by switching to electronic annual reports.

There is also evidence many Americans, tired of recycling hundreds of plastic bottles every year, are moving away from bottled water to drinking filtered water or even tap water.

What effect will such trends have on printing companies or bottled water producers not only in the USA, but also across the world?

Clearly, there will be other green trends that will also have an impact on the world in 2008. These include increased use of LED lighting, consumer demand for organic fabrics, more rigorous environmental standards in building and construction, technology breakthroughs for electric cars and greater use of local produce to reduce food miles.

The question for Wales is: Are we ready for this revolution? We certainly have fledgling industries in many of the areas mentioned in this article backed up by scientific expertise within our universities, and the political will of a devolved government committed to sustainability.

Despite this, I would argue that we have been largely half-hearted in our attempts to push ahead with such developments with rhetoric, rather than action, being the norm.

Yes, we have created glossy documents such as the Sustainable Development Action Plan for Wales but how many of these laudable aims have actually become reality?

There is plenty of talk about becoming a "green nation" but how much of this is converted to real action? For example, the last European Funding Programme made it obligatory that every project had to demonstrate its environmental credentials.

With more than 1,300 projects funded over a six-year period, have we really seen a sea-change in green attitudes across our businesses and communities? I think not.

For those sceptical about the development of green technologies, this isn't about "tree hugging" any more.

It is about creating a multi-billion-pound industry that can create sustainable, well-paid jobs in Wales.

Given our natural advantages, we should be doing far more, but to date, policymakers have been content to use wind farms as a catch-all for any green development, forgetting the massive potential of tidal power and clean coal technology, never mind the other developments discussed earlier.

Well, that isn't good enough and it is time that we, as a nation, grasped the opportunities being presented to us and showed the world how a small clever country can become a global leader in those industries and technologies that will have a major impact for years to come.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 5, 2008
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