As oil prices continue their climb and look set to stay strong for some time to come and the shale boom continues its impressive advance, we thought we would take a look at the clean energy landscape and see what sectors hold opportunities for energy investors.
To help us look into this, we spoke with Jim Marston, Vice President of Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) US Climate and Energy Program. EDF is a leading national non-profit organization that creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. See more here: http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/.
We discuss the following with Jim in the interview:
• How market-based solutions can yield tremendous environmental results
• Why solar energy’s future looks bright
• Investors should be looking at the smart power sector
• How energy data could help unlock a host of new opportunities for investors
• A different way to view energy
Interview by. James Stafford of Oilprice.com
Oilprice.com: In the end, it’s all about the market, so how can markets really help improve the environment?
Jim Marston: The market is a remarkably powerful force, and EDF’s most noteworthy environmental results have been achieved when we’ve helped design, create, reconfigure and reform markets. Acting like a magnet, markets create a pull on people and businesses.
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But markets are not perfect. In fact, when they fail to account for the true costs of pollution and resource use, markets can fuel environmental degradation—as evidenced by the state of the world’s climate.
Our goal is to ensure that the power of the market is harnessed, but also that our markets incorporate and account for the so-called “external costs” like healthcare costs, reduced life expectancy and climate impact.
Oilprice.com: With all the solar ups and downs over the past years, how does the market look now, and how have government subsidies helped or hindered its progress?
Jim Marston: From a cost perspective, the solar market is looking better each year for consumers. Solar costs are down significantly in just the last five years; solar PV module prices have fallen 80% since 2011 (20% alone in 2012). And the solar energy sector has now “secured just shy of $1 billion in third-party financing from Wall Street to support a sustained and likely spectacular future growth in deal flow.”
Increased demand normally helps spur innovation and reduced costs. So, though it is impossible to quantify the exact impact of subsidies and rebates that make it easier for customers to commit to solar, they surely have contributed to falling costs.
Oilprice.com: From a market perspective, where should investors look for sound renewable energy deals? Where is the least amount of risk and biggest payout right now?
Jim Marston: As an environmental organization, EDF doesn’t offer investment advice. There are other, far more qualified people to recommend investment options.
We are finding a great deal of innovation in what we, and others, call the “smart power” sector. These are ideas, products and services that focus on clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Some of these companies are working to make existing products and infrastructure cleaner and more efficient: appliances, buildings and even the electric grid itself. Keep in mind that the US will spend around $2 trillion over the next two decades to upgrade our outdated energy infrastructure, and many companies realize that there’s a real market for products that make the existing electric grid better, greener and ‘smarter.’
But there are also companies that are viewing energy in a whole new way – marrying customer energy behavior with lifestyle services. Just as GPS has transformed the mobile computing industry, energy data from the devices we use every day open up a whole new opportunity to create products that help customers manage their homes, businesses and devices.
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There’s a lot of money being invested in smart power, and we are very optimistic about the innovation it has sparked.
Oilprice.com: What can we expect five years from now?
Jim Marston: It’s amazing to think that Apple’s App Store was introduced only five years ago this summer. No one predicted the remarkable adoption rate of mobile apps, but today it seems that such rapid ubiquity is expected for every new idea.
We are highly optimistic about the future of smart power, but we expect its growth and penetration to follow a more traditional technology timeline – at least when it comes to consumer products.
We DO have a remarkable opportunity now, however, to spur policies, technologies and products that will guide HOW we view energy. Today, traditional markets view more energy as good, regardless of its impact. If we begin to view energy differently and truly value energy saved (or stored, or shifted), brand new markets of products and services will emerge – and already are.