Renewable Power Is Coming Back


"Prices are falling and there are clear industry front-runners. The question is: Which form of power will achieve grid parity first?"

The time is coming. We've known for a while it was happening. . .

Politicians have pointed it out and companies have thrived on the idea.

We don't know exactly when it's coming, but the signs are there.

I'm talking about a renewable energy breakout.

The renewable industry has finally built up enough prestige that it isn't going to quietly lay down and die because of a few bumps in the road. . .

We're coming out of a recession. The weakest industries were bound to be hit the hardest.

But that doesn't mean industries like wind and solar are going to fade into oblivion. They've come too far to do that.

Prices are falling and there are clear industry front-runners.

The question is: Which form of power will achieve grid parity first?

Any Way the Wind Blows

Wind power is one of the U.S.'s fastest-growing renewable sectors. With roughly 50 gigawatts (GW) of wind power, we have something to be proud of.

But we should save our boasting for now. . .

A federal corporate tax credit that supports electricity production for a number of renewable power sources has been running since 1992. It offers a 2.2 cent-per-kilowatt-hour credit to wind power.

And while the credit for every other source expires on Dec. 31, 2013, the credit for wind power expires one year earlier—a little over three months from now.

That's why Vestas (CPH:VWS), one of the world's largest turbine makers, announced it would lay off 2,300 workers in January and another 1,400 in August. This week Siemens (SI:NYSE) also said it would cut 615 U.S. jobs.

These companies and others like them are hoping Congress will renew the credits. It's all the hope they have in continuing the successful expansion of wind power.

Congress has yet to make any moves to do so.

Perhaps renewables' hope for a comeback lies with another sector. . .

A Brighter Future

Solar isn't nearly as old or as prevalent as wind power, which goes back centuries. (Don Quixote, the eponymous character in Miguel de Cervantes' novel, chased windmills back in the early 1600s.)

The wind power of today is quite different, of course, due to the evolution of technology.

The solar industry needs the same.

This year and last, the industry underwent a period of natural selection when a drop in polysilicon prices sent solar panel prices through the floor. A number of companies failed to make it through; the ones that did were hurt.

But the interest in making solar more profitable has not settled. . .

Earlier this week, Jeff told you about an article on a robotics company that claimed its technology would reduce solar costs by up to 20%. And we've been following something even better. . .

This solar technology can reduce the costs by up to half. Strangely enough, the company that makes it isn't even a solar company—it's a tech company.

This little outfit has the potential to completely revolutionize the way the solar industry functions.

Developments like this will be the key to making solar prices equal to other energy sources.

There's no telling if Congress will renew the wind credits, so wind might take some time. . .but you can be sure revolutionary solar technologies will continue to be developed and perfected.

The evolution of technology will be behind the industry breakout.

Brianna Panzica
Energy & Capital

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