Monthly Archives: March 2009

Cleantech, Optimism Squared and the Family Reunion Investment Test

Last November, Merrill Lynch released "The Sixth Revolution: The Coming of Cleantech," a thematic report from strategist Steven Milunovich that heralded cleantech as a new investment theme and forecast a coming age of plenty. A few days later venture capital icon Vinod Khosla warned a Palo Alto audience “500 million people on earth enjoy a lifestyle that 9 billion people will want in 2050.” The differences between these two informed viewpoints are more than a little stark, but they highlight a frightening truth about cleantech: for the first time in human history the fundamental drivers of a technological revolution...

FLIR: The (IR) Image of a Stimulus Stock

I highlighted FLIR Systems (NASD:FLIR) as a way to participate in the growth of the energy auditing industry in late 2007.  I was ambivalent about it at the time: I very much liked the potential growth story, but felt the stock was overvalued. Flir has fallen about 35% since late 2007, and 50% since its peak in July 2008 (while revenues have grown about 50%), prompting me to give it another look.     Infrared Stimulus Weatherization of low income housing and Federal building retrofits are a major component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka "Stimulus Package.") ...

Do You Need To Invest In Oil To Benefit From Expensive Oil?

Two months ago, Tom told us how he'd dipped a toe into the black stuff (i.e. bought the OIL etf) on grounds that current supply destruction related to the depressed price of crude oil would eventually lead to the same kind of supply-demand crunch that led oil to spike during the 2004 to mid-2008 period. If you need evidence that the current price of crude is wreaking havoc in the world of oil & gas exploration, look no further than Alberta and its oil sands. The oil sands contain the second largest oil reserves in the world after...

How Likely Is A Big Rally For Alt Energy Stocks?

Last week, Jefferies & Co. held its Global Clean Technology Conference. Unsurprisingly, the tone wasn't as optimistic as in previous years, with cash and funding worries top of mind. Nearly two months ago, I discussed some tangible signs pointing to looming problems in the industry. However, despite all the gloom, it seems as though several firms (and investors!) are expecting the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to provide the industry with a lifeline. But will this really be the case? For one thing, the major environmental spending programs in the ARRA are relatively...

A Diamond In The Mutual Fund Rough

The credit crisis and ensuing collapse in equity markets hasn't been especially good for the mutual fund industry (especially of the equity type). Over the weekend, I ran a search on Morningstar's Fund Quickrank using "U.S. Stocks Funds" as a category and "Total return %: 1 Year" as a ranking field. The top-five ranked funds (as at March 20, 2009) and their performances are outlined in the table below, excluding fees. The group average, containing 9,978 funds, is -40.43%.   Fund Name Ticker 1-Yr Total Return (%) Gabelli ABC GABCX -1.52 ...

Drawing the Right Lessons from the Texas "Wind" Emergency

On February 26, 2008, a drop in wind generation by about 1400 MW over ten minutes, coupled with an increase in demand of 4412 MW due to colder weather, and lower-than scheduled production from other power suppliers, led ERCOT, the Texas grid operator to cut 1100 MW of power to interruptible customers for about 90 minutes.   Misconceptions All these facts come from a Reuters article misleadingly titled "Loss of wind causes Texas power grid emergency."  I was dismayed a few weeks ago when this misleading reporting led the generally insightful Master Resource Report to conclude "This is a clear...

Lithium-ion Batteries and How Cheap Beat Cool in the Chevy Volt

Since November of last year, I’ve argued that cheap will beat cool when it comes to the commercialization of battery chemistries. As details on the design and construction of the Chevy Volt battery pack emerge and are publicized on sites like Green Car Congress and Popular Science, it’s clear that cheap Li-ion chemistry has already beaten cool Li-ion chemistry and many of the concerns I’ve expressed about using Li-ion batteries in cars have been considered and resolved by thoughtful automotive design engineers. It bodes well for the introduction of PHEVs as long as the tax incentives remain in place,...

Li-ion Battery Manufacturers – The Bleeding Edge of Energy Storage Technology

As a lawyer, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the finest scientific minds in the world. They all started with brilliant concepts and impressive laboratory results, but a substantial majority failed to create a viable business. After countless clients that started well and ended up mired in a swamp, I’ve come to understand that technology is a two-edged sword. On the leading edge, developers of low cost technologies can build fortunes. On the bleeding edge, developers that can’t control their costs and manufacture competitive products often morph into the financial equivalent of a black hole....

Investing In Wood Pellets, Part I

Last week, I mentioned that I had attended a conference focused on opportunities in the biomass and bioenergy sectors. One of the article ideas I got from this conference was on the emerging market for wood pellets (tightly packed sawdust and other wood shavings) for heat and electricity. How interesting that, over the weekend, the magazine Science published an article suggesting that the US should ramp up its use of wood for small-scale heat and electricity production (the article is not available free of charge but you can find a summary here). The Wood (Pellet) Advantage It...

If a Clean Energy Mutual Fund Falls in the Forest…

When I was researching my Comparison of Clean Energy Mutual Funds and Clean Energy Tracking Portfolio articles, I came across something strange: the American Trust Energy Alternatives Fund (ATEAX) did not seem to have a listing on American Trust's website.  However, finance sites were still publishing price and holdings data, and there was no recent news, so I didn't think much of it, since other funds seemed superior based on both costs and fund holdings. Last week, I noticed that the fund's price had not changed since the end of February, so I did a little digging.  Here is...

The Ontario Feed-in Tariff For Alternative Energy

Last month, I wrote about how Ontario, North America's 6th largest jurisdiction by population, had tabled a Green Energy Act to boost the alternative energy industry's growth in the province. In that post, I mentioned that officials would soon release the rules for a feed-in tariff (FIT) system. FITs, which pay fixed rates for renewable power, are all but absent in North America, although they are popular incentive in Europe. Germany's FIT is largely responsible for that country's dominance in solar PV today despite mediocre sun conditions.  Ontario released the draft rules and proposed prices for...

What the ARRA Means for Clean Energy: One State’s Example

Last week, several branches of the Colorado state government organized a symposium on "How Colorado Electric/Gas Utilities and Their Customers Can Benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)."  I attended, with an ear to how the likely implementation would affect Clean Energy Stocks. Overall, Colorado seems to be taking a very organized approach to a monumental task.  According to Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Chairman Ron Binz, who officiated at the conference, they intend to organize proposals into an overall thematic plan for spending stimulus money.  In addition, they are working to eliminate barriers to regulated utilities...

Lead-Carbon Batteries: A Game Changer for Alternative Energy Storage – Part II

I woke up this morning with a dreadful case of writer’s block and feared that I might have to take a week or two off while awaiting the end of the current SEC reporting cycle. Mercifully, one of my readers sent an e-mail message that asked some pointed questions about lead-carbon battery technologies and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the principal lead-carbon battery developers. So instead of dashing off a quick reply, I thought it might be interesting to share both the message and a detailed response. Besides, it seems like a great way to kill two...

Alt Energy Investment Opportunities In The Ag Sector: Intro

I just got back from Growing the Margins, a conference and trade show focused on the bio-mass/gas/energy/products sectors with a focus on the farm and food industries. These are not sectors I have traditionally paid a great deal of attention to, despite the fact that there are very interesting things happening in both. The most notable contribution to alt energy from farm industry over the past five years has been corn ethanol, an enterprise I have long believed to be economically and environmentally unsustainable. To be sure, ethanol, but especially second-generation ethanol, got a fair...

Casey Energy Opportunities: Review

I was a subscriber to Doug Casey's International Speculator from 2004 to 2006, and I consider his research into the junior mining sector the best I've come across, although his libertarian political views are usually at odds with my own.   Last month, Casey Research invited AltEnergyStocks.com to join their affiliate program, meaning that we would earn referral fees if our readers subscribed to their newsletters using the links on our site.  Like most people, I like getting paid, but my integrity is also important to me, so I wasn't comfortable writing an article simply hyping their products.  Instead, I...

The Buffett Shareholder Letter & Alt Energy

It is fair to say that most people continue to equate the terms "alternative" and "energy" with expensive, unreliable and plain unpractical. This naturally leads a majority of people to view alternative energy investing as a high-risk play on some unproven technology with an uncertain probability of success. This is a perception we've tried to dispel on several occasions, whether we were talking about blue chip alt energy stocks, dividend alt energy stocks or utility alt energy stocks. It's also fair to say that most people don't typically associate value investing and, by extension, ...