The 5 Most Important Forecasts Made in 2008 – #3 Toyota on Peak Oil; #2 Merrill on Cleantech

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Get ready to make some notes on which energy investments should do well in 2009 and beyond based on what leading experts forecast in 2008 – predictions that have gone largely unnoticed by the rest of the media in the crush of the global credit crisis.

#3 – Toyota’s coordinator for alternatively fueled vehicles forecast there could be a “liquid peak” within a decade, and the company itself warned in a report that with 1.5 billion vehicles expected on global highways by 2020, 600 million more than today, there could be “supply shortages and resource exhaustion.”

By signaling its concern over “peak oil,” Toyota, which has long been at the forefront of technological change in transportation, effectively endorsed the new generation of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and other alternatively-fueled vehicles. That should cause investors to look even closer at the technological leaders in “mild” hybrid technology, lithium-ion battery technology, and more.

Also, with the U.S. having only a handful of entrants in this race to develop the next generation of fuel-efficient transportation, American investors may need to refocus on the leading Asian and European contenders.

#2 – Merrill Lynch forecast the “clean” energy revolution will be as big as the Industrial Revolution as the world tries to cope simultaneously with global warming, peak oil and energy insecurity.

“History shows that technology revolutions occur about every 50 years. We believe clean tech is at the beginning of a high-growth period, much like computing was in the early 1970s,” Merrill’s clean-tech strategist, Steven Milunovich, reportedly said, adding that he expects “profound changes” in the energy, utility and automotive industries.

That’s pretty much the entire economy (both businesses and consumers) that Merrill expects to be profoundly changed by the clean energy revolution. Calling it also a profound investment opportunity, Merrill forecast the world will start to see the effects of this new revolution as early as 2010, which suggests that 2009 will be the year smart investors position their portfolios in anticipation of what Merrill also called a new “golden age” of technology.

Merrill believes the clean tech revolution will be led by solar power. It further believes that electrified vehicles will revolutionize transportation and that, because of reliability concerns, on-site generation will compete with centrally-dispatched power from mammoth power plants. The latter suggests a bright future for things like Honda’s home fuel cell system, while the former suggests a bright future for the mostly Japanese automakers taking the lead on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

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