New Light on Solar Energy

July 5, 2007

The market isn’t mature yet, but it’s rapidly picking up speed thanks to rising environmental consciousness and innovative initiatives.

Kermit the Frog once exclaimed, “it’s not easy being green,” but today being green is the fast track to raising both profits and environmental consciousness. Take the rapidly expanding solar-energy market, which has picked up momentum in the past few years and which was the topic of a RBC Financial Group report, “Investing in Solar Now,” released on May 9.

The report from the New York City-based group provides a useful snapshot of the current state of the solar-energy industry and its potential for investors. According to the report, the demand for photovoltaic solar power will grow about 40% by 2011, making it an attractive market for venture capital and private investment.

“[Solar energy] isn’t mature yet, so a lot of money is going into research and development. About $1.7 billion was invested as private equity and venture capital in the solar industry in 2006—mostly private equity for factories in China and investment in technology companies in the U.S. and Germany,” explains Jenny Chase, a senior solar analyst for London-based investor research and information firm New Energy Finance. “In addition, $4.5 billion was invested in publicly quoted solar companies in 2006, most of which is being spent on expanding global manufacturing capacity,” she adds.

Solar energy’s recent boom is due in part to growing public and governmental awareness of the developing technology, which was introduced as an energy option during the oil crisis of the 1970s. In 1999, German legislation—known as the “100,000 Roofs” law, due to its aim to cover 100,000 roofs with panels—followed by the Renewable Energy Law in 2000, provided low-interest loans for home and business owners to install solar-power panels. It also gave installers the opportunity to earn half a euro for every kilowatt of electricity they generated in the power grid.

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