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Will Australia ride the clean energy revolution?

Over in the USA, the founder of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, is making headlines because Tesla has just reported a quarterly profit of US$22 million. That’s not a lot — but it’s the first quarterly profit in three years — and might just be a sign that Tesla is turning an important corner. Its share price jumped on the news. But that’s nothing compared to the gains many Tesla investors have already made.

In fact, Tesla shares are up over 570% in the last 5 years. That’s a huge boost to anyone’s portfolio, and it has been made possible by the global move towards clean energy. Whether it’s solar panels, wind turbines, battery storage or electric cars, there’s little doubt that the clean energy revolution is sweeping the world. Fortunes will be made. And fortunes will be lost.

But looking at the gains made by early investors in Tesla (and other US clean energy companies), Australians may well wonder if we are missing out. After all, our governments have been far more supportive of coal and gas, than clean energy technologies. But all is not lost.

Clean energy investment In Australia

Despite the challenges, some investment in Australian clean energy has borne fruit. In large part that is thanks to schemes such as the Renewable Energy Target (RET), the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

For example, wind farm operator and developer, Infigen Energy (ASX: IFN), has relied on the Renewable Energy Target to drive investment in new infrastructure over the years. The downside of this is that the value of its shares crashed partly as a response to uncertainty over whether the government would reduce the overall target (in absolute terms). Subsequently, when the government did reduce it, the share price actually improved. The share market hates uncertainty.

Ironically, the news of a reduced target was welcomed by the market because it removed uncertainty. With Malcolm Turnbull taking over from Tony Abbott, many perceive a favourable change for renewable energy companies; even despite a lack of vociferous government support. And so, in the last year, Infigen shares are up over 170%.

An entrepreneurial opportunity

Many politicians often talk up their support of clean technology, without actually backing it by funding innovation. Certainly, the policy of dumping the CEFC and ARENA under former Prime Minister Abbott, was painful for the industry. But there is some hope.

Earlier in the year, the government announced a change of tack, and instead decided to alter the mandate and the funding of the two agencies, without actually abolishing them. This leaves the infrastructure in place for future governments to increase innovation, should they decide to do so.

And in the meantime, the private sector is taking the lead. Internet entrepreneur Simon Hackett has taken over as Executive Chairman of Redflow (ASX:RFX), a battery company selling Australian IP.

Hackett, who founded Internode (subsequently sold to iiNet), says “the full outsourcing of our core battery product to Flex has now been completed successfully, despite the process taking somewhat longer than originally expected.” The first orders of the company’s Zcell flow batteries were delivered to installers just last month. These batteries are an alternative to Tesla’s Powerwall, and even fans of Elon Musk may appreciate the Australian alternative.

Foolish takeaway

Investing in any cutting edge technology is always risky; and many investors end up bleeding. But the ASX has a number of interesting companies that could well ride the wave as clean technologies sweep the globe. These companies face regulatory risks, as well as technical challenges, but in the longer term, as the populace recognises the merits of clean energy (and as the politicians reflect that better) the situation should improve.

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Claude Walker is a Motley Fool investment advisor. He does not own shares in the companies mentioned in this article. You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudedwalker. The Motley Fool's purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).

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