Clean Energy Guru Takes On Wall Street

For his exchange-traded fund, Robert Wilder picks companies for their clean-energy technology, not their balance sheets

7 min read

Years before Wall Street bought into the idea, Robert Wilder set out to prove that investing in alternative and clean energy solutions was not just for tree huggers. Although it has experienced the price volatility characteristic of any emerging sector, as of 17 October the WilderHill Clean Energy Stock Index (ticker symbol ECO) had risen 99.2 percent since its launch on the American Stock Exchange on 16 August 2004. It was up, year to date, by 33.4 percent. Investors have poured more than US $1 billion into PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio (symbol PBW), the exchange-traded fund that holds the same stocks in the same weights as the index. (Exchange-traded funds can be traded and priced any time of the day, unlike traditional mutual funds.) The fund was named the Best Exchange Traded Fund for 2007 by the popular investment Web site The Motley Fool.

What makes Wilder’s approach to stock picking unique is a disciplined focus on a company’s technology. Financials are a secondary consideration. Rather than targeting undervalued companies as most other stock pickers do, Wilder chooses firms for ECO because they are applying technologies that are deemed most likely to gain value from society’s transition to cleaner energy and efficiency.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

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