Renewable Energy

Solar Power Is at a Tipping Point… and the Upshot Is Massive Profits

solar power

Solar power is leading the clean energy sector toward a tipping point. It's a brand new age for renewable energy. Gone are the days of requisite private investment for progress and innovation.

Because it's all about grid parity now - the point at which the cost of generating renewable energy suddenly becomes equal to its peers.

Which means the money is about to flood in. Here's what to expect...

Why Renewable Energy Is Attracting the Smart Money

renewable energy

Renewable energy is gaining momentum. In fact, global capital investment in clean energy rose 16% in 2014. Some have even dubbed the recent surge toward clean energy a "turning point."

After all, the total invested in renewable power jumped last year to $310 billion, just $17 billion shy of the all-time record in 2011.

So where do you think the "smart money" is headed?

Why Lower Oil Prices Won't Kill the Renewable Energy Boom

oil prices

Whenever oil prices drop, everyone always wonders how it will affect wind and solar power.

It follows from the traditional assumption that renewables like these are only competitive when oil and natural gas prices are high.

After all, the early stages of wind and solar power came with a hefty front-loaded price tag, requiring massive government subsidies to both producers and end users to get off the ground.

Some states even introduced legal measures that required that utilities buy a certain percentage of their energy needs only from renewables.

All of this only added to the wider perception that renewables couldn't truly contend, especially if oil and natural gas prices fell.

But those days are now rapidly coming to an end...

This Solar Power Breakthrough Will Be a Game Changer for the Sector

20141014-solar-power

The great stumbling block for solar power has always been storage. Conventional batteries, even the most high-tech ones, are inefficient, expensive, and don't last more than a few years.

But this week, researchers announced a breakthrough battery that's 20% more efficient and 25% cheaper than anything else on the market.

It’s the game changer that could finally make solar energy competitive…

How Scottish Independence Will Affect Energy Prices

energy prices

On Thursday, there will be a vote in Scotland to decide whether it will separate from the rest of the U.K., and the latest polls are too close to call.

For the government, Scottish independence would be a direct rejection of Prime Minister David Cameron.

But there are also numerous implications for energy prices if the vote succeeds…

This Renewable Energy Source Could Be the Next Great Battleground over Fracking

renewable energy

Of all the renewable energy sources, geothermal power remains by far the smallest. But that may not prevent it from becoming the next energy "hot potato."

There are two problems quickly developing in this part of the energy spectrum.

And they are shaping up to create the newest controversy in the energy sector...

Has Solar Power Finally Arrived?

Solar panel

Solar power has three major benefits: It's renewable, it's great for the environment, and it can be produced right here at home.

There has always been one big problem with solar, however - the price. For years now, its high cost has always been the biggest weapon in every critic's arsenal.

But a study released last week suggests this objection is about to fall by the wayside for good.

Here's what it means for the energy sector, and for investors.

Energy Investing: This "Secret Ingredient" Generates Solar Power at Night

As solar power enthusiasts know all too well, renewable energy has the same problem that the "normal" generation of electricity does: how to store all of the energy produced so that it can be used when it's needed.

For solar power, that means even at night.

To date, this conversation has always centered around discovering new battery technologies.

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The U.S. Navy Loves This Micro Cap

As a concept, tidal power seems straightforward enough:
The ocean moves continuously without incurring any problematic conditions like lack of wind or sun, as is the case in the best-known renewable energy sources. With a constant source of motion, all that's needed to generate power is a drive shaft connected to a dynamo.
But a concept - by itself - doesn't make any money... especially in the "renewable energy" space. You need an effective product to make an impact.
That's why the U.S. Navy loves this little company...

The Path to Energy Independence is More Rocky Than It Seems

You might have seen yesterday's headline in the Wall Street Journal: "U.S. Redraws World Oil Map."

As the article explains, U.S. oil production is now on pace to surpass Saudi Arabia by 2020. This would make the United States world's largest oil producer. We're already the second-largest natural gas producer, according to 2010 EIA estimates.

It's all thanks to the U.S. shale boom that has unlocked billions of barrels of oil and trillions of feet of natural gas from the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific Coast, from the Bakken in North Dakota to the shale fields of southern Texas.

But all of this fracking has caused some serious economic and environmental problems.

And while I greatly advocate increased drilling and domestic production, we still must address a wide-range of problems now plaguing the shale oil and gas sectors.

After all - with apologies to Voltaire and Spiderman - with such great fortune comes greater responsibility.

That's why I am in the third day of what has become a very interesting conference here in Pittsburgh. It was convened to set the agenda moving forward to deal with the almost invisible aspects of shale oil and gas drilling.

In fact, for the first time, the conference's primary focus will be on the negatives caused by the drilling.

We also have questions surrounding the amount of water required to frack these formations (the process needs a lot of water to break open rock and release hydrocarbons), as well as the ongoing public health fears from the chemicals used.

Now, we are seeing parallel economic problems as well.

In the Marcellus basin, researchers are now recording some of these shortcomings and placing them in four basic categories.

The real concern is that these four problems - in infrastructure, labor, local inflation, and the environment - will remain well after the drilling (and the revenue) has moved on.

So before you decide to declare "energy independence", take a look at some of the downside that may come along with it.



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Oil Prices are Higher, But It Won't Be Much Help for Alternative Energy

Normally, when gas and oil prices accelerate on both sides of the Atlantic, alternative energy sources come into focus and become a big part of that "energy independence" discussion.

Well, not this time.

During the run up to mid-$4 gas and $147 a barrel oil in 2008, many assumed these costs would continue to advance. That made alternative sources - especially renewables such as solar, wind, biofuels, and geothermal - more attractive to investors, politicians, and energy enthusiasts.

Alternative sources are more expensive than conventional oil, gas, or coal. They are, however, more environmentally friendly. Paying those higher costs was regarded as a tradeoff for cleaner energy sources and a reduction in emissions.

Today, that view has changed.

U.S. Oil and Gas Squeezes Alternative Energy Prospects

It's part of the reason why I've recently avoided alternative energy companies like First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR), Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ) or SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWR) in my Energy Advantage portfolio.

The economic downturn has made reliance on more expensive energy sources a difficult proposition to accept. Renewables are hardly a convincing argument anymore, especially during a sluggish economic recovery.

Yes, increasing oil and gas prices should reduce the spread between conventional and renewable, thereby providing stronger arguments for change. And proponents argue that alternatives provide an enhanced advantage given that they can also be domestically produced.

Just don't bet on these arguments holding up this time. Here's why.

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The Problem with Renewable Energy is the Price

I haven't written about renewable energy in recent months for a very specific reason.

The market for sources such as solar, wind, and biofuel has collapsed.

There are two reasons. Both involve price.

First, while crude oil is beginning to move upward, and natural gas prices have increased by about 57% over the past three months, both had fallen to unusually low levels.

That means the primary ally of alternative sourcing - the acceleration in the price of hydrocarbons - has been absent.

Of course, there are environmental, lifestyle, and social considerations that would benefit from renewable energy. Taken by themselves, however, these do not have more than a marginal impact on the energy balance.

Price remains the main ingredient.

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