Climate Tech Investing: This Time Has to Be Different
The Recent Buzz About Climate Tech
Climate tech. It's been a buzzword that's penetrated the atmosphere of investors large and small over the past few years. Venture capitalists are putting big money into it, publications like Forbes, TechCrunch, Motley Fool have written about it and continue to write about it, it's been the topic of discussion on highly rated business podcasts, and companies like Amazon ($AMZN), Ecosia, Microsoft ($MSFT) and Unilever ($UL) have initiatives dedicated to funding it. So what is climate tech?
What is Climate Tech
Climate tech is technology that is specifically focused on reducing the emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) or tackling the global warming crisis. And by that definition, many companies that we already know fall into the category of climate technology. Tesla ($TSLA), Rivian Automotive ($RIVN), Beyond Meat ($BYND), and Impossible Foods, Blink Charging ($BLNK), FuelCell Energy ($FCEL), and PlugPower ($PLUG) are all considered climate tech companies.
Why Has Climate Tech Become A Big Deal Lately?
There are several reasons why climate tech has been a hot topic as of late. Let me start with the money, either gained or missed, which leads us to Tesla. Tesla's bull run starting in mid-2019 along with Beyond Meat's phenomenal IPO during the same year, and Enphase Energy's ($ENPH) run from sub $5 to $144 per share has investors looking for the next climate tech big winner in the public and private markets.
In addition to the above, the current U.S. President is a believer in global warming and climate change and had promised to address the issue while campaigning, so companies within the climate tech industry could be receiving an investment from their uncle in the near future to assist with their research, product development, and production. And probably the number one reason why climate tech has become a big
deal lately is that we desperately need it to
be a big deal.
Global Warming and Climate Change
We are seeing the effects of global warming more and more each day. What Jimmy Carter tried to explain to the U.S. in the 70s, and what scientists have tried to tell us for the past 20 plus years, is now impacting us all. Crazy weather patterns, severe storms, rising sea levels, an increase in the number of wildfires, the release of ancient viruses, increased smog in our cities, more kids with respiratory problems, and on and on and on. Because we've been slow to act, we need solutions that can help us make up for the blunders of the past.
Why Private Companies Have Taken Up the Fight Against Global Warming
Because nations and governments have been slow to react to the climate crisis. This has put billionaires, millionaires, tinkerers, entrepreneurs, and dreamers in a position to think of, create, develop, and invest in solutions that will help us address climate change.
Unfortunately, we've been down this road before where we put the responsibility of battling the climate crisis in the hands of private companies, and the ending was not a good one for investors.
Why Cleantech Failed in the Early 2000s
In the mid-2000s, climate tech was referred to as cleantech, and it had its moment in the spotlight but then things went south, causing venture capitalists and early investors to lose a lot of money.
The first cleantech boom lasted from 2006 to 2011, and it saw investors pour $25 billion into what they hoped would be planet saving technology that brought profits. According to an MIT research paper, by 2011 VCs had lost more than half of their investment. At the end of the cleantech boom, funding for cleantech companies dried up, and the number of cleantech companies founded dropped to 24 in 2013 from 75 in 2007.
Cleantech's failure to launch during the first go round can be blamed on several factors. Some startups were still very much into their research and development stages, which didn't mesh well with venture capitalists who were looking for a return on their investment within three to five years. There was also the global financial crisis, which forced big money funders into preserving rather than investing. And in the case of Solyndra, a manufacturer of thin film solar cells, the company ran into difficulties producing their product at scale, in addition to having to compete with the abundance of cheap solar panels from China.
Cleantech Wasn't a Complete Failure
In the mid-2000s and early 2010s, cleantech and how it was defined was very narrow. Cleantech was solar power, windmills, hydropower, and biofuel. Which were vital in getting us to where we are today.
In 2008, the solar capacity of the United States was only 0.34 gigawatts (GW), which was just enough to power 300,000 of the 100 plus million homes in the country. Since then U.S. solar power capacity has grown to an estimated 97.2 GW, which is enough solar capacity to power 18 million average American households. While we may not consider the initial cleantech wave investment a rousing success, it wasn't a complete failure.
Why Climate Tech has to Succeed Now
Our climate situation has become dire, yet all of our politicians still can't agree that global warming is an issue, leaving many governments way behind the problem instead of in front of it. Now it's up to the private sector to save the planet, and lucky for us the private sector is up for the challenge again.
What’s in it for Stock Investors
Climate tech isn't just a play to save the world, it's a very big money play. The International Energy Agency (IEA) believes there are big profits awaiting investors who make early moves into clean energy. In the agency's net-zero scenario, climate tech's global market value will rise from $122 billion to $870 billion by 2030, surpassing the value of the oil market.
Tesla and Enphase Energy are great examples of early investors winning big in climate tech. If an investors purchased Tesla's stock at the start of 2011, just several months after its IPO and continued to hold through 2022 that investor would be up over 19,000%. If an investor purchased Enphase Energy's stock in 2013 and held on until today, that investor would be up over 3800%. In both cases, an early investment in climate tech paid off big.
The IEA believes there are more big gains to come, and points to batteries and energy storage as catalysts to drive the rise in value of the climate tech industry. According to a PWC report, companies concentrating on mobility and transport received the bulk of venture capital between H2 2020 and H1 2021, taking in $58 billion. EVs, electric bikes and scooters, as well as last mile delivery vehicles are attracting the bulk of VC investment. The electrification of transport will continue to be a big money maker into the future, and it's not just car companies.
For every EV company that pops up, it brings with it a need for lithium, cobalt, and nickel mining as well as battery production. Companies like Tech Resources Limited ($TECK) a metals and mining company and Freeport-McMoRan ($FCX), one of the world's largest copper, gold and molybdenum miners are trading at market caps of $18 billion and $56 billion respectively. which to me is equivalent to Apple's $165 billion market cap in 2008, a year after the iPhone's release. Knowing what we know now, 2008 was still a great time to invest in the smartphone revolution. The switch from basic phones to smartphones during the 2010s helped propel Apple to a trillion dollar valuation. We're likely to see the same thing with EV companies, mineral miners, battery manufacturers, and charging station companies as we get further into this decade and car buyers swap their ICE vehicles for electric vehicles. Despite Tesla's massive run up in value, we're still in the early stages of the EV revolution.
According to this article from Electrek, cumulative plug-in electric vehicle sales surpassed 2 million in mid-2021, and it took 10 years to surpass the mark. But if we go back in time 10 years, Tesla's didn't carry the hype that they carry now, Ford ($F) and GM ($GM) weren't fully committed to electric vehicles, and newer EV players like Rivian, Lucid ($LCID), and Proterra ($PTRA) weren't on anyone's radar. Now with more companies dedicated to low GHG emissions vehicles, EV growth expectations for the next several years far exceeds the growth of the past 10. EEI.org expects 18.7 million EVs on U.S. roads by 2030.
Climate Tech is Bigger Than EVs
There are other climate tech investment opportunities in addition to electric vehicles and the EV ecosystem. There are companies like Heliogen ($HLGN), that develops renewable energy that can be used to power industrial facilities, data centers, and mining operations. There are companies like Brookfield Energy Partners ($BEP), a renewable energy company out of Canada with operations in multiple countries, and Advanced Emissions Solutions ($ADES) which deploys a technology that reduces emissions of nitrogen oxide and mercury from coal burned in cyclone boilers. ADES's solution could help to reduce the smog created from burning coal. There's also companies like AppHarvest ($APPH) and Hydrofarm Holdings ($HYFM) that are tackling vertical farming.
If you're not into picking individual equities, there are more than a dozen climate tech based ETFs. The VanEck Vectors Low Carbon Energy ETF ($SMOG) increased 100% in 2020, before cooling off in 2021. Invesco's Solar ETF ($TAN) also had a spectacular 2020 with a 221% gain during the year, but had also cooled down in 2021. In comparison, the investor's benchmark, the S&P 500 only gained 15.7% in 2020.
The Future Looks Very Bright for Climate Tech
I remember in the early 2000s when PlugPower had a small buzz amongst penny stock investors who strongly believed that PlugPower was the future, unfortunately for those investors PlugPower's stock did nothing for almost a decade. Those penny stock traders had their day though in early 2021 when PlugPower traded to over $75 per share. Timing is everything, and now it's time for climate tech based investments to take off, not because I want them to, but because they have to or we're all screwed.
EIP Climate Tech Index: Created to track the performance of public climate tech companies.
The Prime Impact Fund: Keep an eye on several private companies backed by the Prime Impact Fund that could be public companies contributing to the fight against global warming in the near future
Exploding Topics: 20 funded climate tech companies at different stages of funding. Another list to keep an eye on for the next big thing in climate tech coming out of the private sector.
Holon IQ: A tracker of climate tech unicorns (this list is growing fast).
Vertical Farming: Seven companies involved in vertical farming.
Nerd Wallet: Best Performing Climate Tech ETFs in 2021
ETF.com: 18 Clean Energy ETFs