KBC favours wind for renewable investments

FRANKFURT, GERMANY - Investing in wind power offers safer, less volatile returns in the current market environment than the solar sector, a fund manager of KBC's asset management arm told Reuters.

"We as investors like strong, steady growth, which is why we currently favor wind more than solar, which is expected to see more volatility in the short term," said Treasa Ni Chonghaile, manager of KBC's Eco Alternative Energy fund.

The solar sector is in the process of wide-ranging consolidation, triggered by cell and module oversupply that has plagued the industry and has forced some players to file for bankruptcy, while other are suffering major losses.

The wind industry, however, has seen most of its consolidation activity already, with a handful of players, such as India's Suzlon Energy Ltd, Germany's Nordex AG and Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems A/S emerging as global players, along with bigger conglomerates, notably Siemens AG and General Electric Co.

Ni Chonghaile's fund, currently about 236 million euros (US$348 million), has gained 16.1 percent to October 29 from January, underperforming the FTSE clean tech index, which gained 21.4 percent in the same period.

About 35 percent of the fund is invested in companies active in the wind sector, compared with about 28 percent for the solar industry.

"The wind sector has a more mature technology, benefits from government support and is more cost-competitive versus solar," Ni Chonghaile said.

In Germany, for example, feed-in tariffs for solar companies are on average much higher than those for wind power, meaning wind energy companies produce at more competitive levels vis-a-vis their solar peers.

Top picks in Ni Chonghaile's portfolio include wind market leader Vestas, Spain's Iberdrola Renovables SA — the world's leading renewable energy generator — and U.S. solar cell maker First Solar Inc.

Ni Chonghaile's fund also holds shares in Novera Energy Ltd, an operator of landfill gas sites, which is trying to fend off a takeover offer by private-equity backed peer Infinis Energy, saying the bid was "wholly inadequate."

"We like the company's assets. This is one of the reasons why we, too, think that Infinis' bid is undervaluing the company," Ni Chonghaile said.


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