Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (http://www.firstsustainable.com), a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Clean-Energy Trends 2006


A wonderful report by Clean Edge details the opportunities awaiting Clean Tech investors over the next few years. Forget oil exploration. Wind, solar, biofuels, and hydrogen are the most exciting places to be. Cumulatively, despite having record earnings years and still-worthwhile run-ups, the stocks of oil companies like Exxon (NYSE:XOM), Valero (NYSE:VLO), Chevron (NYSE:CVX), and British Petroleum (NYSE:BP) have not kept pace with the exciting results of clean tech companies, such as: (The analysis of these companies is my own, although they were mentioned in the report)

  • Energy Conversion Devices (NASDAQ:ENER). Up roughly 100 percent since last April 4, this photovoltaic materials producer has been on a tear with new partnerships in China. Currently, it is losing prodigious amounts of money, but is nonetheless in a cash favorable position, recently filing to sell an additional $150 million in a secondary stock offering. Curiously, this company is headed by former General Motors CEO Robert Stempel, who is best known for losing prodigious amounts of money at the head of that company before being forced out. By prodigious, I mean prodigious by the standards of those days (early 1990's). His successors at GM have since eclipsed him.
  • Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR). This company makes photovoltaic panels. The stock has also doubled in the last 12 months, but still faces challenges. Prices for silicon, the main material for its PV, have also skyrocketed in the last 12 months. Evergreen lost its contract with its main sililcon supplier in March, and had to scramble to replace it, albeit at less favorable prices. Nonetheless, this company is the purest pure play in the solar field.
  • Itron (NASDAQ:ITRI). Up 92 percent in the last year, this company provides the meters, the data collection, the software, and the data mining for electricity and water usage. The model is highly defensible, since it takes a long time to acquire the relationships to get the contracts they have in place. The only challenge is a concern about stock dilution, as it is using its high priced stock to go on a buying spree.
  • Spire Corporation (NASDAQ:SPIR). This is another materials company, buoyed by strong demand for all things PV. Up 72 percent in the last 12 months, Spire is not a pure play solar stock, as it also competes biomedical imaging and optoelectronics. Some company news touts its thin film technology, which I predicted would be the technology of the year in an early-January post.
One of the striking trends mentioned in the report was the increasing presence of the VC community. Clean tech investments in private equity went from 3.3 percent to 4.2 percent IN A YEAR. This topic could take up another post.

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