Is the boom over for alternative energy – or just getting started?
Think long term for solar and wind investments, three experts say.
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Hilton: One thing to think about is that it's not just about the US. If you look at where a lot of the growth is coming [from], it's coming from Europe – it's coming from Spain, it's coming from Germany. Just as likely, it's coming from China, where you see that they've already made a 15 percent commitment to renewable energy for a long-term energy goal. So the US is part of the story, but it's not the full story for many of the companies in our fund.Skip to next paragraph
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Are prospects better for wind or solar or some other alternative fuel?
Hilton: The best companies we think are in the wind and solar area. If you look at wind, it's the most competitive option right now in terms of relative price. Many of the wind companies have held up quite well, even with this most recent downturn. Companies like Vestas and Gamesa have done quite well, because if you look at it, they're still able to sell, even when there are some concerns about what's happening with the market. Same thing with solar. Where we're a little less excited is areas like biofuels and also geothermal.
Why are they less exciting?
Hilton: The reality is you're just not seeing quite the same growth prospects that you're seeing for wind and solar. I think revenue growth in the wind and solar space is probably going to be about 20 percent a year for the next five years because it's cost competitive.
Becker: Keep in mind the base that these things are working off right now globally – 0.01 percent of electricity is generated from solar power. That is going to ramp up dramatically. Wind is about 1 percent of global electricity generation. It's already about 100 times larger than solar, so solar has a huge potential for growth. That means that there's more competition, too. You've seen a tremendous explosion of capacity coming on line for solar-cell production and solar-module production in China. And so it's becoming commoditized in some sense – solar panels – which makes for more difficulty in picking winners within the solar field.
Patsky: I would say the biggest opportunity we see – and probably the lowest-hanging fruit – is energy conservation. So that's where we're seeing the best opportunities.
How do you invest in conservation?
Patsky: It's basically a resource-efficiency play. You've got rising costs of resources. Now we need to look at who can help in reducing the amount of resources that need to be used to make the same product or light the same room or heat the same building..
What companies look particularly interesting?
Hilton: One of the companies that we like ... is a company called D1 Oils. And it is in the biofuels [field], but it's not really focusing on corn ethanol and some of those areas that have had a lot of concerns. Instead, D1 Oils focuses on a plant called jatropha. What's interesting about jatropha is that you can actually plant it in nonarable areas – in Africa and in India. So it doesn't directly compete with croplands. But they still believe that this is going to be a viable option in order to create biodiesel.
Becker: I would say it would be a mistake to choose just one company to invest in in this area, because the technological change – the amount of money pouring into research and development right now – is so great that the prospects for one particular company's technology being leapfrogged makes it dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. So I would say, focus on a mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund. There's a global clean-energy ETF that we like for quick diversification in the space.
What's it called?
Becker: PowerShares Global Clean Energy.
Patsky: Our largest holding is Vestas and that's certainly a name I would feel comfortable putting my mother in. It's the established leader in wind turbines. And that is a market that I think has great prospects over the next two to five years.
You ask us to be patient with green-energy investments. How patient?
Hilton: I think five or 10 years to really see a big turnaround in where things are going.