Rebound in stock prices prompts green-tech IPOs
Global temperatures fueled by El Nino seasonal warming last month chalked up the hottest March on record, US weather monitors reported.
“Warmer-than-normal conditions dominated the globe, especially in northern Africa, South Asia and Canada,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement on Thursday.
Combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for March 2010 was the warmest on record at 13.5 degrees Celsius (56.3 degrees Fahrenheit), which is 0.77 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average of 12.7 C, it said.
Average ocean temperatures were the hottest for any March since record-keeping began in 1880, while the global land surface was the fourth warmest for any March on record, NOAA said, citing analysis from the National Climate Data Center.
See also “Bye-bye, global cooling myth: Hottest March and hottest Jan-Feb-March on record” for temperature data from NASA and the satellites.
Green businesses have responded to a turnaround in stock prices over the past year by planning initial public offerings worth more than three times the amount raised in 2009.
Among them are California-based electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc., Massachusetts-based renewable energy producer Ameresco Inc. and Spanish photovoltaics manufacturer T-Solar Global SA, which have all filed to go public.
Nineteen green businesses plan to raise $9.6 billion through IPOs this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Twelve of them are solar and wind companies.
“There’s renewed appetite for green IPOs,” said Luigi Ferraris, chief financial officer of Enel SpA. The Italian utility hopes to sell a minority stake in Enel Green Power this year for $5.4 billion, which would be Europe’s largest offering since 2007.
Analysts say the surge in IPOs has resulted from higher stock prices. The MSCI World Index, which tracks equities in developed countries, has risen by 80 percent since March 2009.
“Investment bankers are out there soliciting business,” said Nigel Meir, a fund manager at London-based Ludgate Environmental Fund. “The green sector has a lot of forward propulsion”
Though the two car companies have formed a joint venture to develop electric cars, Renault SA and Daimler AG will compete to produce the battery packs that will be used in their electric Smart and Twingo models.
The companies traded 3.1 percent stakes last week, but they left battery development out of the deal, creating a potential source of conflict down the road. Both companies have described the technology as critical to the development of future vehicles.
“Daimler has been a company that has traditionally been reluctant to give up its own technology path,” said Anil Valsan, London-based director of automotive research at Frost & Sullivan Inc. “While Daimler’s battery may have a technical edge, Renault-Nissan’s solution may end up being more cost competitive.”
Daimler is “not obliged” to use Renault’s batteries for its cars, Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said at the announcement of the alliance last week, but the company is “obviously going to do everything in order for our battery to be considered as the best.”
The two companies plan to spend several billion dollars on battery development over the next two years. Considering the cost of the technology, it would be surprising if the companies decide to use separate batteries for the two vehicles, said Mike Tyndall, a London-based analyst at Nomura Securities Co.
“They may reach a point where it’s clear that one technology will be better than the other,” Tyndall said. “It’s all a question of how willing they are to work together”
German companies eager to profit from their expertise have been flocking to California in recent years. With government incentives driving the growth of renewable energy sources at a breakneck speed in the US, California has emerged as one of the nation’s most active markets for solar energy.
The companies range from contractors who install solar panels on homes to energy suppliers, who feed electricity from renewable sources into the nation’s power grid. Some enterprises form partnerships with local companies while others launch North American subsidiaries. But all say there is no shortage of demand.
Growth potential yet to peak
California’s economy is the eighth largest worldwide, and its goal is to use 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. Angela Merkel said during her current visit that the state is a source for German cooperation in both industry and scientific research.
“We can dramatically develop our relationships here,” she told the dpa press agency.
German companies have been doing just that, largely because California’s solar energy market is known for rapid growth thanks to progressive government policies.
Johannes Buchholz, managing director of the German-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, said those companies developed much of their expertise because of Germany’s feed-in tariff, which pays for renewable energy supplied to the electricity grid.
“California is starting to move in that direction. It’s not anywhere close to the German model yet, but the steps are going in that direction. The potential is still absolutely great. California is this sleeping giant that is starting to awake to mostly solar energy,” Buchholz told Deutsche Welle.
Google wants a price on carbon and wants it now — both for lofty reasons like combating global warming, but also because it could be good for business.
As the Senate inches closer to climate legislation that could give the Internet giant what it wants, I checked in with Dan Reicher, the director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google, to see what surfing the web had to do with reining in greenhouse gases.
Turns out, the answer is technology. Reicher — a former Department of Energy assistant secretary who now directs Google’s investments in clean energy — believes that exposing the hidden costs of dirty fuels will set off a rush of investment in new energy innovations. He says carbon pricing is an “essential signal we have to get to.” Right now, “money is sitting there to make significant investments,” he says, but the cash flow is sidelined because the incentives aren’t there.
Once they have to pay the true price of carbon combustion, the calculus for companies would change, making it fiscally prudent for them to conserve and make cleaner energy. All of a sudden it would make sense to invest in figuring out how to consume less power, or in new technologies that cut emissions at the source. And that would mean a huge new market for innovations that would help them do that.
The same would go for individuals — under carbon pricing, households save if they reduce their electricity loads, and we’d expect a spike in demand for cheap energy efficiency technology as folks seek to reduce their monthly bills. Reicher gives us a compelling vision full of smart grids that know when your fridge needs to defrost and when your car’s battery can turn you a profit by selling spare juice.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday that seeks to address security vulnerabilities in the nation’s energy grid.
The legislation, which now heads to the House floor, would charge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with the responsibility of identifying and addressing weaknesses in the country’s energy delivery system.
The Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act arrives at the behest of lawmakers and experts who fear hackers and other cyber-terrorists could easily de-stabilize the country’s energy systems remotely, causing untold harm to both the federal government and the private sphere.
Closing those prospective security holes is crucial for Democrats, especially, if they hope soon to forge ahead with their plans to establish a Web-based “Smart Grid” that allows Americans to gauge their energy use.
“Right now, our electrical grid is vulnerable to threats from terrorists and hostile countries. Our adversaries have motive, intent, and the capacity to exploit these weaknesses,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee and the bill’s co-sponsor, following Thursday’s 47-0 vote.
“Every one of our nation’s critical systems – water, healthcare, telecommunications, transportation, law enforcement, and financial services – depends on the grid,” Markey said in a statement stressing the legislation’s importance.
The United Nations has called on China to “blaze a unique trail” for itself in low-carbon development by linking clean energy opportunities to improving the standards of living of millions of citizens.
In its new “China Human Development Report,” released yesterday, researchers with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) warn that if China does not curb the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, it could reverse 30 years of achievements.
With nearly 350 million rural Chinese expected to migrate to urban areas over the next two decades, officials said now is the time for China’s leadership to smash the traditional wisdom that has dictated that economic advancement necessarily comes with pollution.
“China is at a critical juncture when the business as usual growth model is not sufficient to the country’s emerging challenges and pressures,” Khalid Malik, U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in China, said in a statement. He called the shift to low-carbon development “imperative” as China balances its growth against the threat of climate change.
The annual development report this year focuses entirely on climate change and sustainable development in China. Done in partnership with Renmin University of China, it argues that the country needs to accelerate the phase-out of old and polluting equipment, industries and products. In its place, the authors said, China should ramp up its renewable energy development — but should also give priority to training, building institutions and pouring research and development funding into creating more jobs in low-carbon fields.
It points out that China’s living standards have improved dramatically over the past decades. Yet those changes, the authors note, “have not come without serious costs,” including environmental degradation, fast depletion of natural resources and zooming emissions. China in 2007 surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest emitter of climate change-causing greenhouse gases.
“Today it is widely recognized that China needs to take advantage of the international low carbon development boom in order to accelerate its shift to a more efficient pattern of economic growth,” the authors wrote. “China should transition from its heavy dependence on energy and resource consumption to improving energy efficiency while also enhancing the country’s high-value-added and high-tech industries.”
The report calls for “setting the stage for the introductions of a cap and trade system in the medium and long term,” based on a national carbon intensity target, and an enhanced system for monitoring and enforcement. It also recommends “establishing a credible and robust system” for greenhouse gas accounting and data as a basis for policymaking as well as enforcement. The authors argue that beefed up fiscal policies will be critical to attracting technical and management talent to spur innovation.
“To achieve such a fundamental transformation, the country must also revolutionize its mindset,” the authors note, urging China’s leadership, academia and think tanks to “continually question and challenge themselves” about how the country is meeting development needs.
China already is investing heavily in clean energy, having sunk $34.6 billion last year into green energy markets, according to a recent Pew Environment Group report. It also has a hefty body of national policies — from a renewable energy standard to a plan to reduce carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent in the coming decade.
Deborah Seligsohn, China program director of the World Resources Institute’s Climate, Energy and Pollution Program in Beijing, said at a recent forum that China is well on its way to achieving that carbon intensity goal. While many have criticized the carbon intensity target as merely “business as usual” — a phrase that implies China will have to change little in order to achieve it — Seligsohn argued that “what is business as usual has changed dramatically over the last five years.”
That’s the period that has seen China close down inefficient plants and establish its 1,000 Enterprise Program, under which the government works with the top 1,000 top energy-consuming businesses to tailor emission reductions. Seligsohn noted, though, that while both moves have been successful, the government now has to think about establishing broader regulations that apply to a larger number of industries and work through local energy conservation centers.
“As you do that, the challenges are greater,” she said. But, she added, she sees “no diminution in Chinese interest in having this ambition.”
Julian Wong, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress think tank, called the report “refreshing” for focusing less on gross domestic product and more on standard of living as an indicator of economic development.
“When people discuss China’s development, it’s in terms of GDP. GDP is a very crude indicator, and almost too crude to measure human welfare. Ultimately, what we care about is the standard of living of the country’s citizens rather than how much churn of dollars there is in an economy,” Wong said.
“When you start speaking of development in more human terms, then I think the benefits of going low-carbon and climate change action become a lot more compelling, because then you’re talking about what are the co-benefits of climate change action,” like reducing air pollution, he said.
Accelerating U.S. clean technology innovation, manufacturing, and market creation has become not just an environmental necessity but an economic imperative. A recent Pew study showed that the global clean energy industry has experienced rapid investment growth over the last five years. New clean tech investments in 2009 reached $162 billion, which is expected to grow 25 percent to $200 billion in 2010. With the global clean energy economy emerging as one of the largest economic opportunities of the 21st century, government policy and public investment will be critical determinants of which countries come out on top in the race to attract private sector investment in clean energy technologies.
The United States is currently behind other nations in this race, and lacks an effective national strategy to compete. Climate legislation proposed in Congress to date, with its low price on carbon, ineffective renewable electricity standard, and collection of efficiency regulations, will not be enough for the United States to catch up to countries like China in building the clean energy industries of the future. To regain leadership in the global clean technology industry, the United States must enact a comprehensive clean energy competitiveness strategy that prioritizes major public investments in clean energy innovation, manufacturing, market development, education, and infrastructure.