It seems that a day doesn’t slip by without someone raising the stakes in the alternative-energy poker game.
The most recent bombshell wager: Cambridge Energy Research Associates report that alternative energy investments will — hold on to your hats! — top $7 trillion by 2030. That’s an audacious number by any measure, and normally it would be enough to suck the oxygen right out of a convention of wind-farm enthusiasts. But that’s not the half of it. The most startling aspect of the report is that it barely raised a ripple in the investment community.
And why should it?
There’s been a steady drum beat of wild-eyed clean-tech forecasts for more than a year now. What’s one more trillion-dollar log on the fire?
But CERA is no pump-and-dump stock scam operating out of an abandoned warehouse in Jersey. It’s a respected global advisory group made up of serious economists and energy analysts and headed up by Daniel Yergin, a recognized energy expert and Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Unfortunately, the report doesn’t appear to break any new ground with its forecast — it mentions that alternative energy is fast approaching mainstream application, that continued advancements in technology could rapidly speed both deployment and acceptance of clean tech, and that nuclear energy will play a large role in low-emissions power.
But it does add a bookend — albeit an incomprehensible one — to the debate about the direction and pace of the alternative energy sector by attaching a dollar amount to the size of the potential investment market.
By and large, much of the financial reporting on the alternative energy market has followed a similar pattern, focusing on investments by venture capital firms in green-tech startups, the green investing revolution, the inevitable collapse of the alternative energy bubble, or the dubious benefits of ethanol.
Few folk have been brave or foolish enough to venture a guess on the future girth of the alternative energy market. It’s hard enough just to get a reasonable estimate of current investments, let alone to project out 20-plus years down the road. If reports are to be relied upon, 2007 was the high-water mark for investments in the alternative energy market in the U.S. and Europe. Last year, investors poured $5.8 billion into the industry, according to one report by the Cleantech Group. New Energy Finance, a London-based research firm, estimated $117 billion was invested worldwide by companies and governments in 2007.
Normally, I’d describe the difference between $5.8 billion and $117 billion as a yawning gap, but compared to the spread between $117 billion and $7 trillion, it’s a mere rounding error. Maybe the market and investors were wise to ignore the announcement.