Renewable Energie – “Energy and the digital transition will destroy the environment in so many ways. Finally, the environmental cost of building this new civilization is so staggering that there is no guarantee that it will succeed. Your power has blinded you to the certainty. that you have lost. the humility of the sailor in front of the sea, of climber in front of the mountain. You forget that the world will have the last word.” – Guillaume Pitron, Battle of the Rare Metals.
Renewable and green energy is at its peak. Driven by climate change and other environmental issues, environmental, social and governance (ESG)-focused funds reached $3.9 trillion in assets under management (AUM) at the end of September 2021. “World Energy Investing” International Organization of Energy. (IEA) 2021″ report estimates that this AUM will continue to expand in the coming years.
So what’s wrong with that? Governments sometimes have to take the lead and provide tax credits, subsidies and other carrots, as well as sticks through legal and judicial action, to make the necessary changes. Technological advances in green and renewable energy in the last 40 years
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Why doesn’t the momentum continue? Our world will face challenges and achieve high and commendable environmental goals. The future will be glorious.
One MW of solar energy requires five to 10 acres of land to produce. If New York City uses about 53,500,000 MW of electricity, 5,350,000 acres of solar panels would be needed to power the city. It is an area the size of the state of New Jersey.
A single 3 MW wind turbine can carry 335 tons of steel, 4.7 tons of copper, three tons of aluminum and more than 700 pounds of rare earths. This does not include aluminum and copper cables or towers related to the electrical infrastructure that supplies power to consumers.
In terms of operating environment, most wind turbine blades are made from non-recyclable materials. Then, when they retire, they are cut up and sent to landfills.
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Lithium is the main ingredient in the rechargeable batteries that power Tesla and other electric vehicles (EVs). Global production of lithium metal was estimated at 82,000 tonnes (MT) in 2020. As the UK and some US authorities begin to phase out the sale of conventional gas-powered cars in 2025, demand for lithium will increase sevenfold, from 200,000 tonnes to more than 1,400,000 tons by 2030. And the demand for lithium will increase elsewhere too, be it batteries for electric cars, batteries for tools, computers and homes, or for fuel and glass manufacturing.
There will not be enough lithium to meet demand now or in the future. Lithium will be in short supply for at least a decade.
The rare earth metals needed for solar and wind energy are scarce. Neodymium, dysprosium, indium, selenium, etc. they are available in only a few countries. Rare earths have a dark secret: mining and refining them is an energy-intensive process that creates significant pollution, among other environmental and social costs.
What about coal power? When will it be removed? Probably not so fast. In the United States, coal-fired power generation is expected to increase by 22% in 2021. Globally, it is projected to increase by 9%, reaching an annual high.
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As Keisuke Sadamori, director of energy markets and security at the IEA noted: “The move to zero emissions for many countries … should have a very large impact on coal, but these are not yet visible in our countries. The forecast, which shows a huge gap between ambition and action.”
The US and the EU have their own domestic manufacturing problems. Copper is an important metal for green and renewable energy. Although a major source of copper, the United States remains a domestic importer. Copper mines in Arizona and a copper-nickel mine in Minnesota have had problems as the Joseph Biden administration exerted its influence on the licensing process. The administration also temporarily suspended the sale of new oil and gas contracts. Such options will make the United States more sensitive to supply shocks.
Likewise, the EU’s decision to shut down coal-fired power plants, reduce the use of nuclear power and rely on green and renewable energy is part of a larger disruption. Between the end of August and the beginning of September 2021, Europe experienced a heat wave. Increased energy demand, coupled with a lack of wind, caused natural gas prices to rise 325% over the previous year. Demands to be carbon neutral by 2050 have made electricity unreliable and increased Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas.
However, investment funds continue to flow into green and renewable energy. I participated in a four-month research program within a sector segment, the electric vehicle sector, as a consultant to the Unicus Research board. My role was to keep asking, “Okay, so what?” It was one revelation after another.
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For example, the electric vehicle supply chain is not an ESG consideration. Consider illegal mining and child labor as well as environmental damage related to mining. Such weight is difficult to reconcile with the supposed ESG approval of the electric vehicle industry.
Another problem: the electrical infrastructure cannot handle the energy needs of the rapidly growing fleet of electric vehicles. Grid failures in Europe, California and Texas show the system’s weaknesses. When California’s grid crashed amid demand this summer, the state’s electric vehicle drivers were told not to charge their cars.
What if lithium battery technology isn’t ready for cars yet? Smaller lithium batteries have gotten a bad reputation. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones were so famous for their explosions that they were banned from airplanes and electronic cigarettes and other lithium batteries from holding luggage. The Chevy Bolt EV has been recalled, causing a billion-dollar blow to GM’s budget, and even Boeing has had problems with its 787 lithium batteries.
Flames from lithium batteries burn at over 3500 degrees Fahrenheit. They cannot be extinguished by water. Lithium battery fires are so hot that they split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, creating a cloud of flammable hydrogen gas. Their heat can damage or destroy the tendons that provide strength to prestressed concrete slabs. These plates are available in parking lots and apartments and on decks. Where will electric cars be parked if not safely in a garage?
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The counter to this view is, of course, the carbon perspective of the “True Believers” of renewable and green energy. If only the true believers were right, but we cannot ignore the problems of rare earth scarcity and pollution associated with using wishful thinking as investment advice. It is for government lotteries.
So what does this mean for us as consultants? Like it or not, the foreseeable future trends favor mining and refining in North America and Europe. Traditional energy companies can be cut. It is a possible opportunity. Those companies that have started the process of vertical integration from mine to battery should survive.
Green and renewable companies attract a lot of investment. In general, they are overrated. Many pension schemes invest in ESG funds. These funds have a lot of money to find a few quality opportunities. Many electric car, renewable and green energy companies will go bankrupt.
Companies that rely on long supply chains and third parties for batteries, chips and rare earths face tough prospects. All these things are difficult to find, their costs are increasing, and the current equipment restrictions will remain until at least the summer of 2022.
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Companies or funds that offer ESG compliance and adopt sustainability standards take two risks: high compliance costs and potential legal action for claims and non-compliance.
Politics is still fundamental. As long as governments and large pension funds favor ESG-branded companies and green, renewable and ESG funds receive tax incentives and tax breaks, the money will continue to flow. But eventually these tax breaks and incentives will run out or they will no longer cover the difference between investment returns enhanced by government policy and more and more unlimited market opportunities.
All posts are the opinion of the author. Therefore, they should not be considered investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed reflect the views of the CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
L. Burke files in an international financial investigator with three decades of experience. He specializes in international mergers and acquisitions and investment due diligence, and assistance in financial cases. Files was a case manager for fraud investigations ranging from thousands to over $20 billion. He has conducted investigations in over 130 countries. Files is the published author of several books, most notably Due Diligence for the Financial Professional, which has won two awards.
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