When it comes to clean energy, the investment market is not fit for purpose

Posted in: Solar Energy

Posted on: 20.08.2015

Recent research shows that global carbon emissions are currently topping 50 billion tonnes a year.

To keep within a 2 degree path, by 2030 we'll have to cut emissions to 40 billion tonnes a year, and by 2050, that needs to drop to 20 billion.

The Lancet Commission's Health and Climate Change report published in June revealed that climate change threatens 50 years of progress in global health. At the same time, the report concluded that slashing fossil fuel use also presented the greatest global opportunity to improve people's health in 21st century.

Hard on the heels of this report came a landmark verdict in Holland, where for the first time a state has been held responsible for climate change action - or inaction! - under Human Rights law. The judge said the government 'must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change'.

This is an incredible moment. It's a booming example of people-power. This group of citizens in the Netherlands were not prepared to sit back and wait for politicians to decide their future. I think they represent millions of people around the world whose voices on climate change are not being heard.


If we're going to avoid catastrophic global warming, this pivotal moment shows that it's ordinary people who will force change to happen.

It may be the first case of its kind, but it will not be the last. We know that here in the UK, the energy sector is the biggest culprit when it comes to carbon emissions, so it's not surprising that there have been well-publicised calls in recent weeks for organisations like big business, pension funds, universities and religious bodies to make a stand against climate change and divest from fossil fuels.

More than 220 institutions around the world have now committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment. This is all well and good, and undoubtedly a step in the right direction. But we've heard less of from the 'keep it in the ground' movement are suggestions for alternative targets for ethical and commercially viable investment.


Invest in a greener future

Renewable energy offers the perfect solution - but it needs forward thinking investors who are willing to move away from traditional, fossil fuels and embrace the potential of a relatively new sector, with new and emerging technologies.

One of the challenges for smaller company start-ups in the renewables sector is finding funding - there's still no environmentally-focused investment community in existence where new business can go and look for financial backing.

When I started Good Energy 15 years ago, the only option for us was to go to our customers for funding, so maybe we piloted the very first crowd-funding project! We had a great, loyal customer base and they responded well. This put us in a much better position from which to tap into more traditional funding routes, and eventually set us up to launch a Good Energy Bond which was a fantastic success.

However, even today it is still hard for new businesses to get onto the first step of the financial support ladder. There's reluctance on the part of some investors to put their money into renewables, as they mistakenly believe that such investment will only be successful because of government subsidies.

What they fail to recognise is that fossil fuels too, are effectively subsidised. While we may not be putting money directly into the pockets of fossil fuel companies, we're all paying the price for their carbon emissions through our own health, quality of life, increased risk of flooding and so on. The truth is that companies in this sector don't have to pay for their carbon pollution - climate change is the biggest market failure of all time!

If you look at Shell's annual report for 2014, for example, it shows they paid out £7.5bn in dividends. However, pricing Shell's emissions using the Social Cost of Carbon (currently around £26 per tonne) puts their carbon pollution at more than double this figure - a staggering £15.6bn.


Invest in innovation and a more secure future

Renewables really do offer a much better viable commercial alternative. Not only do they present a 'greener', more ethical option, critically, from an investor's perspective, they offer good returns with a secure, long-term future - and make a great fit for pension funds.

For example, take NEX, the leading global clean energy index, which tracks the shares of 106 companies whose 'innovative technologies and services focus on the generation and use of cleaner energy, conservation, efficiency and the advancement of renewable energy' .

In the first quarter alone of 2015, NEX gained 9.1 per cent while in comparison, the MSCI AC World Index, which comprises more than 1,600 shares in 23 countries grew just 1.8 per cent.

The NEX year-to-date gain is 5.6 per cent and the S&P 500 Energy Index - which includes companies like Exxon Mobil and Shell - fell by four per cent. And over the same time period, the S&P Global Clean Energy Index gained 19.2 per cent.

I think the message here is clear. The current traditional investment market isn't fit for purpose. There aren't enough environmental funds for small cap companies like Good Energy.

We need a more imaginative investor community which can see the potential, not only for their funds, but for the planet.


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