energy revolution

Investing in the Path of Progress

© Can Stock Photo / irynarasko

The economic history of the past 2,000 years begins with little change for many centuries. Then, in the 17th century, things began to change—a lot.

Energy progressed from waterwheels and windmills to steam engines, electrification, and the fossil fuel economy. Each revolution brought lower prices, wider adoption, and increases in human productivity, incomes and wealth.

Energy powered the factory system, in which standardized parts enabled output to skyrocket compared to the age of one-at-a-time production by artisans making custom articles. One may have romantic notions about the age of the artisan, but far more people could afford shoes when they came out of a factory.

And that was just the beginning of the modern world, with its incredible increase in living standards and lifespans.

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Country by country, the pattern is rising urbanization and the decline of subsistence agriculture as economies modernize. It happened first in Europe and America. China is well along this path. The effect on incomes and economic growth is nothing short of astonishing, as you can see on the chart.

As investors, we see what may be a compelling opportunity from two current trends coming together. The next energy revolution, built on solar technology and battery storage, will enable vast parts of the developing world to modernize more quickly. Just as some places skipped the copper-wire age of telephones and built cell towers, in the years ahead some areas will skip the age of fossil fuels for electricity as solar power gains the economies of scale.

The most populous democracy in the world, India, is at an early stage of the trend to urbanization and modernity. Two thirds of the people live in rural areas; many are still engaged in subsistence farming. With a culture that values literacy and education, India is poised for growth and progress. Some believe that India is where China was twenty or thirty years ago—before decades of rapid economic growth. Add the next energy revolution to the mix, and you can see that exciting times may lie ahead.

The economy of India already includes some global companies, and many more publicly owned companies producing goods for the local market and nearby neighbors. By our standards, it is investable: money can be effectively invested with a reasonable expectation of gains. The India exposures we are putting in place are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and priced in US dollars.

Of course, the future is uncertain, and there are no guarantees. As with all long-term investments, prices may be volatile. Clients, if you would like to discuss how a small India allocation might affect your portfolio, please call us or send email.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

This Will Change the World

© Can Stock Photo / martin33

The human tendency is to believe that present circumstances will continue. The gap between expectations and unfolding reality is where profit potential lives. Therefore understanding unanticipated change is one of the key tasks in our quest for investment gains.

Two related trends are about to unleash massive change and opportunity. If we can puzzle out some of the ramifications, it may serve us very well.

Solar power, being a technology, is declining in cost about ten percent per year. In some applications, it is already competitive with more conventional sources. As the cost continues to decline, we may surmise that solar power will represent an increasing fraction of world energy production—and the overall cost of electricity may begin to fall.

The second trend is the declining cost of energy storage. Bloomberg recently reported on the ribbon-cutting of a power-plant size array of batteries, in California, for meeting peaks in demand. The cost of the facility is twice that of a conventional natural gas peaking plant.

Although paying double does not seem to be an economic threat to the old way of doing things, Bloomberg reports that the cost of storage on that scale has dropped 90% in a decade. Again, energy storage is a technology, and the cost of technology tends to drop over time. We know how this works, right?

Connect the dots: we soon may have ever-cheaper energy available when we need it, courtesy of what we might call the Next Energy Revolution.

Economic history is largely a story of new sources of energy. Water power and steam power launched the modern era more than two centuries ago, with the Industrial Revolution. Petroleum in all its forms was central to the astonishing change and growth in the 20th century. What changes will the next revolution bring?

• Given lower costs for energy, will households consume more of it, or spend more money on other things?

• Will less developed areas of the world modernize more rapidly, powered by the sun?

• Does this hasten the rise of electric vehicles?

• Which companies or industries will be helped by cheaper energy? Which will suffer?

• How much wealthier will the world be, as a consequence?

Change brings opportunities and threats. We have begun to identify winners and losers in the next energy revolution. Much more study and thought will be required. Please call or email us if you would like to discuss how this affects your situation.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.