Saturday, September 15, 2007

Missing the Point with Alternative Energy

Many folks talks of alternative energy as a way to cure our CO2 problem. As the cost of oil continues to rise, many folks talk of alternative energy. Both of these statements make sense. Conservation efforts to reduce our use of oil are great ideas, and will have a bigger impact than alternative energy. You will see why later. If you are an investor, financial folks talk of alternative energy plays as oil rises in price. I think they are missing the point. Big Time.

Here's a great graph on what a barrel of oil is used for in our modern world. Notice a gigantic chunk of that use is for gasoline (51.4%). Another 12.6% is used for jet fuel. Transportation methods use almost 2/3 of oil end products. Few areas use oil to heat their homes and the US does not use much to generate electricity. Alternative energy is good as oil rises if it is in direct competition with oil. Therefore, a financial investment that would be a good 'play' as oil rises would be an investment in something that competes with the 50% end product oil provides: gasoline.

Good alternative energy plays in the spirit of oil rising are railroads, car companies with hybrid/electric products, and nuclear power providers/builders. Railroads are good because the rising cost of gas will make transportation by 18 wheeler much more expensive. A dirty secret right now is that railroad freight transportation is cheaper than trucking. This will only make railroad freight a more attractive option. Car companies with electric/hybrid products will give consumers an automatic savings. People talk about the cost of these cars, but if gasoline keeps rising & average total fuel costs of car ownership reach $3000/year, reliable electric/hybrid cars will look more attractive. If people do turn to electric power for transportation, a non-CO2 method of generation that provides massive power is our friend nuclear fission.
Oil going up does not make coal any more expensive, therefore helping solar and wind power out. Oil going up affects alternatives for the end product users. Fears of global warming and CO2 levels rising will be what makes the public shy away from coal therefore making solar and wind much more enticing. Right now, if you are looking for plays against rising oil, think about the end products, not pie in the sky alternatives.

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