Without a doubt, ethanol and solar are the 2 alt energy categories that have attracted the most investor attention in North America in the past few years, and that is because they are the 2 categories that feature the most US-listed stocks. However, despite its comparatively lower profile as an asset class, investors should not forget about wind power! On January 18th, Emerging Energy Research published a short study on the growth of wind power in China. For 2006, China installed 1,040 MW of new wind capacity, making it the 5th country in the world in terms of new wind capacity. Now some may say that that’s nothing to write home about, especially compared to the 2,454 MW of new wind capacity installed in the US in ’06. However, one of the things noted by the Emerging Energy Research study is that China went from about 100 MW in 2003 to 2,300 MW in 2006, and that the government now has a target of having 30,000 MW installed by 2020. The following week, on January 23rd, the American Wind Energy Association released its growth figures for ’06. The industry added 27% more wind capacity to its fleet in 2006 as compared to 2005, and is expected to add an extra 27% in ’07. Wind power in the US grew by an annual average of 29% between 2000 and 2005. The industry’s goal (PDF document) is to expand from 11,603 MW today to 100,000 MW by 2020. However way you look at these numbers, they spell nothing but solid growth for the firms underpinning this industry. But, as noted at the outset of this post, wind power has not, outside of a few large institutional investors, attracted much attention from North American investors in the recent past, and this despite the fact that the landscapes of some of America’s most populous states are littered with wind farms. The other thing to note is that wind power is much closer than its solar counterpart to being competitive with conventional generation technologies without government support, as demonstrated by another recent Emerging Energy Research study. Under a scenario where carbon emissions would be regulated in the US with an emissions trading system, wind would likely prove competitive on its own. Now the problem remains: there is a dearth of viable ‘pure-play’ wind stocks on US markets. But that doesn’t mean, in my view, that investors should shy away from an industry with such impressive growth prospects. Those of you who are able to purchase European stocks have a broader spectrum of options, but most of the heavy-hitters are accessible to US investors…although not alway in an optimal form (see below). Here are a few ways to play this: Utilities FPL [NYSE:FPL] – with over 3,600 MW of installed wind capacity in 15 states, subsidiary FPL Energy is the US leader in wind power. Iberdrola [MCE:IBE or OTC:IBDRF] – European leader in wind energy with aggressive plans for international expansion, including in the US and China. Acciona [MCE:ANA or OTC:ACXIF] – not technically a utility but ranks 3rd in the world for installed wind capacity. Turbines & Parts Vestas [CO:WVS or OTC:VWSYF] – over a 3rd of the world’s market share for wind turbines. Gamesa [MCE:GAM or OTC:GCTAF] – about 18% of the world’s market share for wind turbines, and involved in wind farm development with exposure to China and the US. General Electric – [NYSE:GE] – about a 10% market share but revenue from this segment comparatively very small. American Superconductors – [NASDAQ:AMSC] – maker of wire and power electronic converters with applications in wind generation; has exposure to China. Now I don’t claim to know each and every company out there with exposure to wind, and I am sure there are other interesting ways to play this space. For instance, the Pink Sheets and OTC Board feature a few smaller, high-risk companies with exposure to wind. As always, we welcome input from our readers. DISCLOSURE: I do not have a position in any of the stocks listed above, and I am not affiliated with any of the organizations discussed in this article.