Monthly Archives: March 2010

Will Plug-in Vehicles Be Obsolete Before They’re Profitable?

John Petersen Last week I did a 40-minute interview for Hedge Fund Radio, a weekly investment program hosted by John Thomas, the Mad Hedge Fund Trader. While our conversation focused on the unassailable mathematics supporting my contention that plug-in vehicles are wasteful, I was fascinated by John's description of his recent conversations with Toyota Motors (TM) where Toyota confirmed its commitment to NiMH battery technology for hybrid drive and fuel cell technology for electric drive. Its somehow comforting to know that the world's most successful automaker agrees that the first modern plug-in, GM's EV1, died from congenital birth...

Ten Clean Energy Stocks for 2010: Q1 Update

Tom Konrad, CFA Three months have passed since I published my annual clean energy mini-portfolio.  So far, these stocks have beaten the Powershares Wilderhill Clean Energy Index (PBW) handily, but they trail the broader market. This is the third year in a row I've published a list of ten stocks for the year ahead at the end of December.  In 2008 my list trailed the broader stock market but beat the clean energy index, and last year it outperformed both.  So far, this year looks more like 2008 than 2009.  In addition to the portfolio of ten...

Cleantech Investing – Aspirations vs. Economics

John Petersen In a November 2008 thematic report, The Sixth Revolution: The coming of Cleantech, Merrill Lynch strategist Steven Milunovich identified cleantech as the sixth technological revolution. He borrowed his definition from Lux Research which describes cleantech as "the universe of innovative technologies designed to optimize the use of natural resources and reduce environmental impact" and warned that "investors must pay attention because cleantech could revolutionize much of the economy, including the utility, oil and gas and auto industries." The six technological revolutions Milunovich identified were: 1771 The Industrial Revolution ...

The Best Peak Oil Investments, Part III: Natural Gas Vehicles

Tom Konrad CFA There are many proposed solutions to the liquid fuels scarcity caused be stagnating (and eventually falling) oil supplies combined with growing demand in emerging economies.  Some will be good investments, others won't.  Here is where I'm putting my money, and why.  This third part looks at the possibility of displacing gasoline with natural gas, by converting vehicles to natural gas. In Part II of this series, I listed five potential substitutes that have been proposed to replace oil as limited supply and growth in developing markets draw oil away from traditional users.  These were:...

The Best Peak Oil Investments, Part II: Hydrogen and Vehicle Electrification

Tom Konrad CFA There are many proposed solutions to the liquid fuels scarcity caused by stagnating (and eventually falling) oil supplies combined with growing demand in emerging economies.  Some will be good investments, others won't.  Here is where I'm putting my money, and why.  This second part looks at hydrogen and electrification strategies for replacing oil. In Part I of this series, I listed four potential substitutes that have been proposed to replace oil as limited supply and growth in developing markets draw oil away from traditional users.  I've since added a fifth to my list...

Vehicle electrification – sticker shocks, delays and manufacturing capacity forecasts

John Petersen Today we have a bit of a hodge-podge as I consider sticker shocks, delays and manufacturing capacity forecasts in the vehicle electrification and energy storage sector. Since the sticker shock and delay discussions involve recent news, I'll touch on them first before getting into the fuzzier aspects of manufacturing capacity forecasts. I'd like to begin with a note of thanks to one of my Seeking Alpha followers, MRTTF, for sending me links to both news stories. For readers who don't delve into the comment streams, MRTTF is a PhD chemist who works in R&D...

So Much for Peak Demand – try 134mb/d by 2030

No peak demand Eamon Keane "So much for peak demand - try 134mb/d by 2030."  That was the startling conclusion dispatched from the ivory tower recently by Joyce Dargay, a British transport econometrics professor, and Dermot Gately, an American economics professor. I'll present their conclusions and then discuss the implications. Their report is available here (pdf). The main conclusion is that the low hanging oil fruit has already been picked after the 1970's oil shocks. From 1978-85 OECD fuel oil consumption dropped by 7mb/d and then from 2003-2008 by another 2mb/d. The...

The Best Peak Oil Investments, Part I: Biofuels

Tom Konrad CFA There are many proposed solutions to the liquid fuels scarcity caused by stagnating (and eventually falling) oil supplies combined with growing demand in emerging economies.  Some will be good investments, others won't.  Here is where I'm putting my money, and why.  This first part looks at biofuel strategies for replacing oil. World oil supplies are stagnant, and in the not-so-distant future will begin to decline.  If economic growth continues, demand for oil will increase as well.  This will lead to a long term rise in oil prices, which will only stop if 1) high...

Plug-in Vehicles Combine Immense Risk With Insignificant Reward

John Petersen Albert Einstein once said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." So when the editor of Batteries International asked if I could present my analysis of plug-in vehicles in two pages and prove my numbers in a way that any open-minded adult could follow, understand and verify with an Internet search engine, I jumped at the challenge. The article was published yesterday in their Winter Edition. Since the numbers have profound implications for the energy storage sector and an expected flurry of ill-conceived electric vehicle projects like the planned Tesla Motors...

Solar Headwinds, Part II

Tom Konrad, CFA Prospective investors in solar manufacturers should consider the competitive forces that constrain the industry's long-term profitability. In the first part of this series, I showed how a competitive analysis of the corn ethanol industry in early 2007 illuminated the forces that soon caused ethanol company stock prices to collapse in late 2007.  I also implied that the solar cell manufacturers, including industry leaders such as Sunpower (SPWRA) and First Solar (FSLR) are vulnerable to these forces and may not be able to maintain high returns on capital over the long term. I'm not...

Solar Headwinds, Part I

How Solar PV is like Ethanol Tom Konrad, CFA High levels of competition in the the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry mean that buy-and-hold investors should look elsewhere. In May 2007, I published a competitive analysis of the corn Ethanol industry based on Michael Porter's classic Five Competitive Forces model.  At the time, Ethanol stocks were flying high, but my conclusion was that "the prospective ethanol investor should be very careful about investing in corn ethanol producers at random."  If anything, I understated the case. This chart shows three ethanol stocks that have survived since 2007.  As...

Vehicle Electrification – a Bird in the Hand

John Petersen Since I'm frequently chastised for holding old fashioned views when it comes to vehicle electrification, I'll start this article by quoting one of the oldest known versions of a common English proverb, "A byrd in hand - is worth ten flye at large." While this theme is not always clear in my writing, it's never far from my thoughts. In fact it's the foundation of my conviction that manufacturers of cheap energy storage products are better investments than developers of cool energy storage products and batteries are great at minimizing waste but miserable at replacing fuel...

Green Energy Investing For Beginners: How Many Stocks Should You Own?

Tom Konrad, CFA In stock portfolios, deciding how many stocks to own involves weighing a trade off.   A smaller portfolio can be built (and sold) with fewer commissions, and also requires less time to research.  On the other hand, a portfolio with fewer stocks will gain fewer benefits of diversification, and likely be both more volatile and harder to sell in a crisis.  These trade offs are also affected by the size of the portfolio, and the market capitalization and liquidity of the companies in the portfolio. Diversification is widely accepted as a nearly costless way to reduce...

Will Surging Smart Grid Investments Result in Surging Electric Prices?

John Petersen The electric power system in the U.S. is dirty, antiquated, stupid, unstable, and a security nightmare. After years of discussion and debate, consensus now holds that the generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure will need hundreds of billions in new investment to reduce emissions, improve reliability, minimize waste and inefficiency, improve security, and facilitate the integration of wind, solar and other emerging alternative energy technologies. Commonly cited capital spending estimates range from $200 billion globally by 2015 to $2 trillion overall. In his November 2008 report, "The Sixth Industrial Revolution: The Coming of Cleantech," Merrill Lynch strategist...

2010: The Year of the Strong Grid? Part VI: Will the Real Strong Grid...

Tom Konrad, CFA For clean electricity to flourish, the electric grid needs not only to be smarter, but more robust.  This is where my strong grid stocks come in.  But stringing wires for power is a lot like stringing wires for telecommunications as well a large number of other businesses which do not have much to do with the energy trends I hope will boost the long term prospect of these companies.  Knowing how much these companies earn from grid infrastructure helps predict how much they will benefit from the trend. Unlike many of the financial statistics...

What’s the Stock Play in Wake of the Over-hyped Story About Fuel Cell Developer...

Bill Paul Having been a Wall Street Journal energy and environment reporter, one of the first experts I would have called before running a story on privately-held solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) developer Bloom Energy would have been Neal Dikeman, who in addition to being a prominent alternative energy investor and the writer of an authoritative blog on clean technology, was involved in developing a fuel cell company. But as Dikeman posted lasted week – Saving Cleantech: Bloom town Silicon Valley? – he didn’t get a call from the folks at CBS’s 60 Minutes, so the raft of legitimate technical...