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It’s a new age of clean energy

For investors, that means a wealth of opportunities as government push and good economics pull us into a renewable future.


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Anastasia Amoroso, Head of Cross-Asset Thematic Strategy at the Private Bank, explains how it is increasingly more possible to both enjoy modern life and breathe cleaner air.

 

We’ve long known that air pollution harms, even destroys, human health. Nineteenth- and 20th-century businesses had to choose between modern production and breathable air.

Now, it is increasingly possible to both enjoy modern life and breathe cleaner air. It’s the dawn of a new age of clean energy—filled with a wealth of immediate and long-term opportunities for key companies and their investors.

Today, companies have greater access to technology that generates electricity without polluting, and this technology makes increasing economic sense. Renewable generation costs have dropped to the same level as, if not below, that of natural gas—and well below that of coal.

Renewable generation costs have dropped to the same level as, if not below, that of natural gas - and well below that of coal

Clean energy is quickly becoming a government priority. Regulators around the world have been setting ambitious targets for renewable energy to help drive economies to adopt new energy sources. Their governments are motivated not only by the popularity of green movement momentum but also by national strategic needs for an energy source that is:

 

Clean. Not polluting. Low and predictable cost. Not variable due to commodity price fluctuations. Renewable. Not finite. Locally sourced and dependable. Not geopolitically dependent. In other words, electricity generation that is renewable - not coal, oil, or even gas.

Bottom line

We think the combined economic pull of, and government push for, clean energy will ultimately deliver to investors a welcome surprise to the upside—double-digit earnings growth for companies that are able to contribute to, and capitalize on, the clean energy value chain. Already, forecasts expect the earnings of global clean energy to grow 17% from 2019 to 2022, well above major benchmarks like the S&P 500.

Here’s how we reached this conclusion—and where we see investment opportunities flourishing.

Forecasts expect the earnings of global clean energy to grow 17% from 2019 to 2022

Anastasia Amoroso, Head of Cross-Asset Thematic Strategy at the Private Bank, explains how it is increasingly more possible to both enjoy modern life and breathe cleaner air.

 

Governments push

The United States recently hit a major milestone: The nation consumed more energy last year from renewable sources such solar and wind than from coal. Yet this is just the beginning. Only 11% of our global electricity generation is from these renewables today—but that number is forecast to grow to 27% by 20301.

A part of this shift to renewables will happen because of a regulatory push.

Last year, the United States consumed more energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind than from coal

32 percent renewable energy consumption by 2030

The European Union is committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. The EU target is to reach at least 32% of energy consumption from renewables by 20302. Indeed, Europe’s transition to renewables and batteries is said to present a $2.6 trillion investment opportunity—with wind capturing 60% and solar 28% of the total.

Forty one percent renewable energy consumption by 2030

China, the largest electricity market globally3, is expected to transition to renewables more slowly. The nation’s stated 2030 target is for 20%4 of its electricity consumption to come from non-fossil-fuel energy; forecasts project China will make it to 41% renewable electricity generation by then5. China is expected to see a 2.5-fold growth in wind in electricity generation by 2027 and a threefold increase in solar photovoltaic (PV) power by that same year.

Twenty eight percent renewable energy consumption by 2030

The United States is on an even slower pace. Renewables6 make up 20% of the electricity mix today and should rise to 28% by 2030. U.S. adoption is currently being driven by 29 states’ policies and goals. Wind and solar electricity generation are each projected to grow 1.5-fold each from 2020–2030 (see Figure 1).

Source: “New Energy Outlook 2019.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance, June 2019.

Economics pull

Also speeding the worldwide shift to renewables is the pull of increasingly favorable economics. The costs of wind and solar technologies fell substantially due to large-scale capacity expansions and technological improvements. Since 2010, utility-scale solar PV power has shown the sharpest cost decline at 82%, while onshore wind costs declined at 39% and onshore wind dropped 29%7.

It is already more cost-effective to build new energy capacity with PV or wind than with coal. Little surprise then that, globally, solar and wind are expected to be 60% of new capacity adds from 2021–2025, and accounted for 72% in 20198. But there’s more: very soon, new solar and onshore wind power could cost less than keeping many existing coal plants in operation (see Figure 2).

Source: “1H 2020 LCOE: Data Viewer” Bloomberg New Energy Finance. May 20, 2020. All LCOE calculations are unsubsidized. Global benchmarks are country-weighted averages using annual capacity additions, except for oshore wind where the cumulative capacity is used. Solar refers to fixed-axis photovoltaic systems and Natural Gas refers to combined cycle gas turbine. BNEF started to cover LCOEs for coal and gas plants in 2014.

 

Battery technology for energy storage is expected to be key to addressing the intermittent nature of renewable generation and its cost, too, is falling. The cost of battery packs has decreased 84% since 20109.

 

Commercial customers

Add investors’ increasing focus on sustainability to the regulatory push/economic pull driving adoption of renewables—and we expect commercial customers to become significant consumers of clean energy.

Commercial customers currently account for 37% of U.S. electricity demand10, using electricity to power computer equipment as well as cool, heat and light buildings. Globally, more than 200 companies representing 228 Terawatt-hours (TWh) have committed to the RE100, an initiative to get companies to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2050 or sooner. Already, one in three companies are 75% toward their goals; one in two are motivated by cost savings11. Overall, a quarter of the Fortune Global 500 companies have publicly declared that they are carbon neutral, or will be by 2030, using 100% renewable energy or meeting a science-based reduction target12.

 

 

Here are some notable examples of how companies have begun to respond with renewable energy commitments.

  • Data centers backing up many of our cloud-based online activities now consume more than 2% of the world’s electricity and emit roughly as much CO2 as the airline industry13. But companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon,Microsoft and Apple14 are moving to clean energy to minimize their current and future carbon footprint. They are either already consuming clean energy for all of the electricity use or have committed to do so by 202515.
  • It’s not just the tech giants that are moving to clean energy. Companies like Starbucks, Unilever, DHL, Cisco16 and others are using 100% renewable energy17.
  • Even some oil and gas companies are remaking themselves into renewable enterprises. For example, the Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor18 says it plans to become a “global oshore wind major” and intends to increase its renewable assets tenfold by 202619.
Cloud-based data centers now consume more than 2% of the world's electricity and emit roughly as much as CO2 as the airline industry.

 

 

 

 

Investor prospects

The shift to renewables has been heralded for years but only now are many forces combining to make that our reality. Industry and corporate commitments to clean energy are clearly on the rise. We anticipate the speed of clean energy adoption could surprise investors to the upside and drive meaningful opportunities for growth.

We see four major areas of opportunity for investors in public and private markets:

  1. Utilities that supply renewable energy and can earn an attractive rate of return.
  2. Yield companies that buy and lease renewable assets, then pass through the cash flow through dividend yield.
  3. Solar and wind technologies that lead to efficiency and cost improvements and benefit from rising new installations.
  4. Digitization technologies like asset performance managers for smart grid and the “Internet of Things” to manage electricity loads and optimal delivery.

Other opportunities stand out in carbon credits, renewable energy credits (REC) and green bonds.

But, fair warning, the picture for investments in renewables is not unblemished. In addition to the challenge of finding the right companies to invest in, there also are such general risks as: 

  • China’s hold on rare earths used in many methods of harvesting renewable energy
  • The U.S.’s shifting political winds changing policy toward and away from renewables
  • The fact that renewables are not always unequivocally green, as the manufacturing process for some clean energy technologies produces potentially harmful waste
1. “New Energy Outlook 2019.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance, June 2019.
2. European Commission Renewable Energy, Energy Eciency and Governance, Dec 4, 2018
3. In China, economic growth is projected to drive the country’s electricity consumption by 76% by 2042 (compared with a mere 0.4% annual electricity demand growth rate in OECD economies through 2050).
4. “13th Renewable Energy Development Five Year Plan,” National Energy Administration of China, Dec. 10, 2016.
5. “New Energy Outlook 2019.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance, June 2019.
6. Hydro, geothermal, biomass, onshore/oshore wind, utility-scale and small-scale PV.
7. IRENA, https://www.irena.org/newsroom/pressreleases/2020/Jun/Renewables-Increasingly-Beat-Even-Cheapest-Coal-Competitors-on-Cost
8. Of course, not all future adds will be in renewables. Many industrial applications still require the higher energy content of conventional oil, gas and fossil fuels, so they will still remain the primary energy source for industries like glass, bulk chemical and iron and steel even to 2050. Combined-cycle gas turbines and gas-peaking plants will also still have a key role to play in providing backup and dispatchable electricity.
9. The cost of battery storage in 2019 was $186/kWh. It is projected to fall further to $94/kWh by 2024 and $62/kWh by 2030. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, June 2019.
10. EPA, EIA, Electricity data browser, Dec 2017.
11. RE100 Progress and Insights, December 2019.
12. “Deed Not Words,” Natural Capital Partners, September 2019. Targets adopted by companies to reduce emissions are considered “science-based” if they are in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement—to limit global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue eorts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
13. https://e360.yale.edu/features/energy-hogs-can-huge-data-centers-be-made-more-ecient
14. Not investment recommendations. This material should not be regarded as investment research or a J.P. Morgan investment research report.
15. Iceland and Nordic countries like Finland and Sweden emerged as attractive destinations for data center clients as these countries lead in the use of renewables for electricity and oer otherwise favorable conditions like cooler temperatures to cool heat-producing data centers.
16. Not investment recommendations. This material should not be regarded as investment research or a J.P. Morgan investment research report.
17. https://www.epa.gov/greenpower/green-power-partnership-national-top-100
18. Not investment recommendations. This material should not be regarded as investment research or a J.P. Morgan investment research report.
19. https://www.equinor.com/en/what-we-do/wind.html

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