Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Alternative Energy Not Getting Any Second Wind

Another alternative energy company is giving up the ghost.  A123 has concluded that it can't profitably make lithium-ion batteries and is going into Chapter 11.  DOE should never have tried to pick winners but the temptation to look "green" is too strong to resist.  So where's all the green tech going to come from that's going to generate green jobs?  I guess it will have to come from green companies that don't need government help.

Some green sectors are addicted to government help.  Wind energy companies are scaling back in advance of the expiration of tax breaks for their sector.  Renewable energy seems to come and go in fads, and investors fall out of love with the sector when they realize how difficult it is to compete with hydrocarbons on cost.

Tonight's second presidential debate paid scant attention to renewable energy.  The rhetorical action centered on domestic production of oil, gas, and coal.  Both contenders had something to say about permits for drilling on federal land but little to say on what entrepreneurs needed to do to obtain permits.  One thing energy entrepreneurs can do is use the JOBS Act to raise capital.  Wildcatters who are serious about drilling can now crowdfund an equity raise for a project.

The energy story for America in the next few years will have little to do with the scant promise of green tech. That train left the station and went off the tracks before it could build up a full head of steam.  The promise of renewable sources has always been very selective.  Entrepreneurs can bid for the right to commercialize green tech developed in DOE labs.  The Southwest is full of acreage ripe for concentrated solar PV development.  Green approaches work when they're focused.