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By Walter Borden

Here at the midpoint of 2014, solar power technology continues its advance while its marketplace momentum builds. Economic policy and commercial efforts designed to induce commercial innovation must keep apace.  And there are pockets of progress in the political economics of deploying solar. Take for example this post from Clean Technica: “Solar Energy’s Quiet Invasion Into Professional Sports“. Or consider the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based regulatory program in the United States that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

And in Germany, one of the world’s most important economies, phys.org reports, “The Fraunhofer ISE research institute has announced that Germany set a record high for solar use on June 9—on that day the country’s solar power output rose to 23.1 GW—50.6 percent of all electricity demand. The record occurred over a holiday, which meant less demand, but it still marks a major step forward for the world’s solar power leader.”

Key aspects of the report from our perspective:

  • Despite not having a generally sunny climate, Germany has been pushing solar energy, but not from the huge solar farms as seen in other countries. Other nations, like the United Kingdom, report the same.
  • The German government is on track to reduce greenhouse emissions from electric power generation from coal fired power plants while at the same time retiring its fleet of nuclear power plants (scheduled for closure by 2022).
  • The FRG aims for an energy mix of solar, wind and biomass; though solar has become the national leader according to most reports.

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Yet challenges remain, as phys.org also notes:

The move to solar has not been without its problems, of course. The government plans to lower or remove subsidies as soon as possible, and the demand for batteries to store all that home-grown electricity is outstripping supply causing a rise in prices. Also, it’s not clear what sort of role utilities will play going forward. Currently, many homeowners are reporting surplus energy production on sunny days which they sell to electric companies, which now find themselves having to store it for use during cloudy stretches.

There’s another problem though it’s not as obvious: the German government noted recently that almost seven million households in the country are living in energy poverty (defined as having to spend more than 10 percent of income on energy bills). The national energy program, Energiewende, has resulted in some transfer of wealth. Economists note that even with subsidies, it’s generally the wealthy and sometimes the middle class who can afford to put solar panels on top of their houses.  The poor continue to live off the grid paying taxes that provide the funds for the subsidies. There’s also some evidence that the country’s energy program is pushing energy costs higher overall, resulting in more electricity being produced by cheaper fossil fuels.

Energy poverty is also a problem in the US.  As states like Ohio abruptly suspend widely popular solar power policies, working poor, middle class families, and businesses see expenses rise. Manufacturers like Honda and Whirlpool joined consumers in opposing Ohio Governor Kasich’s executive order to freeze its program. Additional side-effects weigh on taxpayers.  As more coal is used public health suffers resulting in rising health care costs, and water treatment costs increase too which is also true of  fracking for natural gas. These costs are passed along disproportionately to small businesses hurting them as well as working families. continue reading…

We honor the sacrifice and dedication of the women and men of the United States Military. The Fund Balance team takes great reassurance from their collective recognition of the realities and risks for our shared peace, security, and prosperity posed by climate change. The US Military’s determination indicates the urgency for a steady, determined transition to green and renewable energy sources. Its organizational and technological expertise as comprised of active and former service members will play a singular and essential role in planetary deployment of renewable fuels.  Leadership in delivering renewable energy and power in the 21st century on mission-critical scales will help us all avoid economic, social, and ecologic entrapment by the carbon-intense fuels of the 20th. We urge our elected representatives to continue to support the United States Military in these efforts.

After a Marine company began using solar panels while deployed abroad, they reported that their diesel fuel usage dropped by a whopping 90 percent. Source: http://solar.calfinder.com/blog/solar-contractors/solar-power-saves-lives-taxpayer-dollars-on-the-battleground

After a Marine company began using solar panels while deployed abroad, they reported that their diesel fuel usage dropped by a whopping 90 percent. Source: http://solar.calfinder.com/blog/solar-contractors/solar-power-saves-lives-taxpayer-dollars-on-the-battleground

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By Walter Borden

There is a canon among many policy makers and their financial backers holding that essentially all regulations diminish prosperity. Yet, evidentiary support for it is sparse. For example, a recent study Aggregate Demand and State Level Employment published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco finds:

What explains the sharp decline in U.S. employment from 2007 to 2009? Why has employment remained stubbornly low? Survey data from the National Federation of Independent Businesses show that the decline in state-level employment is strongly correlated with the increase in the percentage of businesses complaining about lack of demand. While business concerns about government regulation and taxes also rose steadily from 2008 to 2011, there is no evidence that job losses were larger in states where businesses were more worried about these factors.

Why is it important to make note of failures to link regulatory action and weakened job markets? And, why so for a sustainable economics blog? Firstly, widespread adoption of this view has been  annointed with the great advantage of conventionality: policy makers can’t be evaluated per se as acting irresponsibly in terms of managing labor market health, or so-called job creation, when they have the same extreme hands-off bias towards regulation (particularly in the environmental category) as the industries they are meant to oversee. Hence real concerns of lack of oversight. continue reading…

By Walter Borden

Light Emitting Diode (LED) demand continued in the first Quarter of 2014. LED fab utilisation rates have improved to high levels and LED adoption is happening faster than many had expected. LED customers are also reporting increased market demand for LED backlighting products. Many leading customers are placing orders for capacity expansions. Across the industry Q1 was a significant improvement over the last quarter of 2013 with higher revenues, better margins, and falling operating costs. Our work with privately held early stage start-up firms echoes what we hear from publicly trading firms and their coverage by leading analysts.

  • We believe that higher LED consumer usage combined with new and lower cost products, cost reductions, and higher factory utilization will help increase LED usage in residential and commercial real estate.
  • Unfortunately, stock prices in the sector generally have increased much more rapidly than earnings so investors may want to wait for a dip before entering the public market for LED stocks.

A look at Phillips N.V. is instructive. The Dutch conglomerate has reported flat earnings and generally lackluster revenue growth in the Q1 of 2014 with one exception. At Lighting, while sales were flat on a comparable basis, LED-based sales climbed 37 percent, and now represent 33 percent of total Lighting sales for the Dutch conglomerate.

Notably, then,  Phillips had a flat quarter while its LED unit continued to outperform rising 37% in the first Quarter of 2014.

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Source: http://www.usa.lighting.philips.com/

Meanwhile LED and Solar Panel Manufacturer Veeco saw healthy increases in revenue, gross profit, operating and net income in Q1 2014. continue reading…

By Walter Borden

Solar power stocks have shone over the past year. After four years of decline the industry experienced vigorous growth in 2013. The first growth spurt in the early 2010′s was propelled in large part by European incentives which induced component and material shortage in 2007-2008. This pushed solar stocks to record  highs and to a subsequent bust the next year. The main driver for the market-wide collapse was significant state-level investments in China that led to a large surplus from output from some 500 Chinese companies that produce modules, wafers, and cells. The Chinese investments fostered an overcapacity in production, which hit the the majority of manufacturers in the space. Most non-Chinese manufacturers were then quickly eliminated from the industry. Weaker Chinese companies also fell to price pressures while other participants wanted out of the business. All the while, start-up manufacturers flooded the market with an ever lower priced inventory predictably spurring the aforementioned bust.

Solar Module Costs Q1 2014

Yet now the solar power industry is poised for another solid year in 2014. Many doubtful observers look to the expiration for tax credits in 2016 as the next great shake out for the solar industry. As the National Geographic Energy Blog explains:

Farther down the timeline but perhaps more ominous is the scheduled expiration of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) that solar enjoys. Implemented in 2006, the ITC can be worth as much as 30 percent of the cost of a project, large or small, and it’s due to expire at the end of 2016. The Obama administration’s 2015 fiscal year budget would replace the investment tax credit with a production tax credit at the end of 2016, meaning that a solar project would benefit only after it is built and producing power.  The production tax credit  “simply can’t address the upfront costs of fuel-free solar projects,” said the SEIA in a statement, “and we believe the Administration’s sudden, 180-degree shift in tax policy could have devastating consequences on the future development of solar energy in America.” continue reading…

Note: This is the final excerpt from our 2013 Review/2014 Outlook

Section V: LED Market Overview

The LED lighting market is hot and very competitive. From relative newcomers like Cree, Acuity Brands, and OSRAM, to well-known brands Koninklijke Philips and GE Lighting, the fight for market share is intense.  Growth potential is high. We project the LED market’s CAGR (compound annual growth rate) around 45% through 2016. Consequently, risks of oversupply and subsequent profitability declines in the face of downward price pressures bear watching for investors in smaller firms and/or firms with slim margins.

One of the key factors contributing to this market growth is the declining Average Sales Price (ASP) of LEDs. The global Chip on Board LED (COB LED) market has also been witnessing the increasing demand of COB LED in general lighting applications. However, fluctuating global economic conditions could pose a challenge to its CAGR, as well.

The key vendors within the COB LED market space are Citizen Electronics Co. Ltd., Cree Inc., Nichia Corp., Osram Opto Semiconductors GmbH, Philips Lumileds Lighting Co., Samsung Electronics C o. Ltd., and Seoul Semiconductor Co. Ltd.

Demand for LED lighting will surpass that of LED backlight during the beginning of 2014, according to a recent report by J.P. Morgan:

  • LED product ASP drops have contributed largely to increased consumer usage.
  • Current payback time for commercial luminaries A19 and PAR28 has already been reduced to a year or less while LED bulb price has room to drop 30 percent by 2015.
  • Penetration rate in 2013 will reach around 11 percent up over 5 percent last year, projected at LED 20 percent before 2015.
  • The LED lighting market is more dispersed than the LED backlight market where consumers are highly concentrated. The top three global lighting manufacturers Philips, Osram, and GE make up 30 percent of the global market share.
  • This dispersed nature of the LED lighting market will bring more revenue and bargaining space than LED backlight products in the past.

This is sure to attract more consumers to replacement LED bulbs via its economic and ecologic benefits.

  • Specifically we see LED lighting market development trends and lighting product strategy and the market share situation in different areas.
  • 3030 LED has highest lm/$ and is widely distributed in the market and most preferred.
  • 5630 LED: high current spec applied in bulbs and downlight products
  • 5630 LED: limited room for further price cuts as 5630 LED price closes to production costs
  • LED Manufacturers will continue to speed up COB product development.


A Brief Case Study Revolution Lighting Technologies 

Revolution Lighting Technologies (RVLT) is a firm emblematic of the wider LED narrative for new entrants. With revenue of $15 m, net income loss -S19.53m and their market cap is $259.96m the market for their shares appears way ahead of itself. Yet this new firm is wisely using its pricey stock to make acquisitions to challenge bigger players with market caps measured in the billions of USD.

Sales momentum proceeds unabated. New York’s largest commercial property company, SL Green Realty (SLG) is one of the company’s key customers. SL Green has awarded two orders this year – an order for 1,000 LEDs  for a Times Square commercial property in March followed by an 8,000 LEDs order in December after large purchases in 2012.

RVLT started 2013 with an acquisition of California-based LED solutions provider, Seesmart Technologies for $20 million. Revolution’s bankers liked Seesmart’s distributor count of more than 50 and potential project value exceeding $1 billion.

As one of the smallest players in the industry, RVLT’s exposure to any potential price war could hurt the already vulnerable stock value. And, signs of one are already visible, with both Cree and Philips now offering sub-$10 LED lamps. As prices fall, RVLT has few good options but to follow suit, which will directly hit its strong gross margins from 2013.

As awareness about energy efficiency ever-growing in nations across the globe, the LED lamp investment thesis has great prospects. RVLT may be well poised to capitalize on these trends. But, with nil profits and cash flows, shareholders need to be wary of dilution from additional equity issue to raise capital for funding growth. In sum, at the outset we thought that valuation was fanciful for the long and mid-terms and still do which is why we did not add it to our Leading the LED Motif over 2013. Though we did miss the tremendous upside in 2013, we think the fundamentals make the probability of a pullback in 2014 very high and a strong sell-off not unlikely.

  • Revolution YTD return: 470.83%
  • Cree YTD return: 88.31%
  • Acuity YTD return: 65.16%
  • Koninklijke Philips: 42.3%

Fund Balance sees excellent opportunities in the private equity, early stage space LED manufacturers. One start-up firm we work with closely  projects $19 mil net income in its first year. Our Year 3 sales are projected to be $19 mil with net income of $700K on a $ 2.5 mil raise.

The OLED Market:

Light-emitting materials will encounter rapid change in 2014.  From Smartphones to touchscreens they are key to the future of human-computer interaction. These materials are consistent with sustainable investment and business development goals as these materials consume less power than standard LED products and share in the durability.

Active matrix organic light-emitting diode (AM-OLED) entered the display panel market when Samsung Display started operating its large-scale mass production facilities in 2008. Since then, Samsung Display has been the leader in the AM-OLED market expansion. In particular, AM-OLED displays have been well received by smartphone manufacturers, achieving noticeable growth in products ranging from the high end of 3 inch to 4–5 inches.

By 2014, Samsung Display but also LG Display, AUO and Japan Display Inc. (JDI), are set to boost AM-OLED panel production or initiate mass production. Given that, light-emitting material makers are expected to compete in a more advanced market environment with increased demand and a broader base of customers, after the first part of this decade where they had depended wholly on demand from Samsung Display.

In 2013, the AM-OLED light-emitting material market stood at around $350 million based on demand from mass production lines. In 2014, the market size is forecast to rise by about $100 million to $450 million thanks to demand growth from the existing and new AMOLED mass production lines.

Three main points are of interest for sustainable investors in 2014:

  • Organic light-emitting layer structures and development plans of AMOLED panel makers are on schedule for 2104

  • Market trends and forecasts of the 10 main individual materials are very encouraging

  • Supply chains are strong an and market share will expand by material/company and in 2014 based on orders and vendor forecasts

Conclusion:

The LED/OLED market will grow and expand in 2014. Opportunities will abound for established markets and technological innovators that can compete on price and power consumption reductions. The Fund Balance Leading The LED ETF outperformed the S&P, and we are not currently looking to make additions or rebalances, though we will continue to look closely at start-ups and monitor industry wide ASP trends.

Leading the LED 2013 performance for 2013:

Leading The LED

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