February 19, 2014 1:00 pm JST

And the most promising green technologies of 2014 are ...

FRANK-JURGEN RICHTER

Looking back on 2013, it is apparent that we've reached a unique place in history where technology and the modern lifestyle are merging. And we seem to have finally reached a point where the technologies we build and integrate into our lives are being developed with environmental impact in mind.

     In the past, when companies developed new technologies for public consumption they concentrated solely on features that would attract the most customers. The environmental impact, however great or small, was something that was simply not on the minds of most consumers and did not affect their buying decisions.

     Last year saw the growth of a mass movement of consumers concerned about the environmental impact of their lives. This has obvious implications for technology. For the first time, it seems, companies can win customers by being green, and not just a niche group of Prius-buyers, everyone wants to be green today.

     This year promises to be a big one for the technology we use and its impact on the environment. Expect 2014 to be the year of the green gadget, as consumers grow more educated about global warming and the impact we humans have on our environment.

     We are barely a month and a half into the new year and there are already dozens of promising new technologies and gadgets coming out that will bring us closer to the technologically and environmentally integrated world we desire.

     Including an honorable mention from 2013, here are a few technologies that could revolutionize the way we live and treat our planet in 2014.

The Tesla Model S

This is the 2013 honorable mention and if you haven't already heard of the Tesla, you've probably been living under a rock for the past few years. The Model S and the earlier Tesla Roadster have been making waves around the world both in design and technological circles for quite some time.

     The Roadster, while stunning to look at and exhilarating to drive, was little more than a modified Lotus Elise -- but one that performed worse in almost every category other than raw speed. The Model S, however, changed the equation.

     This luxury sedan was built from the ground up to be an all-electric car for everyday use. Its 320-plus kilometer range is sufficient for almost any commute, and the quality of the car and its handling are equal to or better than any contemporary luxury car made by BMW, Mercedes or Lexus. With the Model S, Tesla has done something brilliant: made an electric car that average drivers will want to buy. They had better hurry, though, there surely won't be enough to go around in 2014.

ISI Technology's Heatworks Model 1

The Heatworks Model 1 is almost as far as one can get from an electric luxury automobile, but its impact could be just as great. The Model 1 is a water heater, but it is far from ordinary. Its claim to slash electricity bills and save the planet at the same time is every bit as bold as Tesla's.

     Conventional water heaters use gas or electric heating elements to heat up a container of water for bathing, washing dishes and the like. Tankless heaters that have recently appeared on the market pass the water directly over a heating element and on to the faucet. But the temperatures needed to heat the water in tankless heaters -- upwards of 1,000 C -- make the systems inefficient and prone to failure.

     Heatworks is a tankless heater, but its technology is brand new. According to Digital Trends, its "direct electric resistance" technology uses two graphite electrodes and the water's own resistance for heating. However strange that may sound, it is a true revolution in technology. The new heating system, combined with advanced computer controls, is up to 40% more efficient than conventional water heaters, and the whole unit is little bigger than a soccer ball.

The McLaren P1, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the Ferrari LaFerrari

Heading back to the track for the third and final notable environmental technology of 2014, it is worth looking at a few examples of the best that the automotive world has to offer and how, even in the top tier, things are turning green.

     It is one thing to make an electric car for the average driver, but it is another thing to make a green car that makes the world's 10-year-old boys drool. This is exactly what Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren have done this year.

     The Ferrari LaFerrari, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the McLaren P1 are not pure electric cars, and they aren't exactly built for a run to the supermarket, but these hybrids make a statement that most auto enthusiasts have refused to hear for years: Not only can green cars work in the real world, they can be faster than anything you've ever seen.

     All three cars have advanced hybrid systems that make use of electricity not to extend driving range, but to be the fastest cars in the world. Gone are the days when seeing a lavishly expensive supercar in the street must come with the smell of gasoline fumes and burning rubber.

Frank-Jurgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a nongovernmental organization based in Switzerland working in the area of sustainability.