From Long Shots to Big Shots? 5 Energy Small Caps That May Thrive Under Obama

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If you’re looking for hidden gems that could benefit from Barack Obama’s new green energy economy, companies that haven’t been touted from one end of the digital spectrum to the other, then read on, provided we all agree in advance that likely only one or two may grab the brass ring.

Whether you come away a believer in any of the following five companies, here are three drivers of growth we see helping them and similar firms. First, improving energy efficiency costs only about 3 cents a kilowatt-hour (kWh), a fraction of what it costs to construct new generation. Relatedly, 2009 marks the return of federal tax credits for home energy efficiency improvements. The original credits had been allowed to expire at the end of 2007.

Second, a majority of U.S. states now have “renewable portfolio standards” that will drive the growth of solar, wind and other green power sources. Third, demand for electricity is outstripping growth in transmission; the U.S.’s already decrepit high-voltage power grid is going to collapse without sweeping repairs and technological advances.

In no particular order, here are five companies that could go from long shots to big shots:

Lime Energy Co. This NASDAQ-traded firm is just the sort of outfit a company would contract with to initiate an energy efficiency program. Lime does basic energy efficiency retrofitting (changing light bulbs and the like). It also provides wireless monitoring of a company’s energy-consuming equipment, such as heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), automatically adjusting to minimize energy usage while maximizing comfort. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best. With many companies unaware of how much energy they use, Lime could really benefit as Obama launches a national drive for energy efficiency, beginning with federal buildings and public schools.

EnerLume Energy Management Corp. Like Lime Energy, this OTC-traded firm’s business is to improve others’ energy efficiency, but its products and services target parking garages, warehouses and distribution centers. EnerLume’s main product is an “intelligent” management system for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that the company says reduces power demand 15% with only an 8% loss of luminosity. Last month EnerLume signed a two-year distribution and private brand label agreement with efficiency giant Eaton Corp., a deal the company previously indicated would accelerate its path to profitability.

Akeena Solar Inc. Based in California, this NASDAQ-traded firm is one of the largest installers of residential and small commercial solar electric systems in the U.S. In 2008 the company expanded operations because of what it called “rapidly growing demand,” though it eventually saw business slow because of the credit crisis. While the solar space is chockablock with competing technologies and basic commodity providers, there aren’t that many installers. Each stands to benefit from Obama’s goal to create millions of green jobs. (Footnote: Akeena stock recently took a dip after it announced plans to sell up to $30 million in a mixed shelf securities offering.)

Juhl Wind Inc. This OTC-traded firm is a minnow in the sea of giant wind project developers. But while the giants are suffering a lot from the credit crisis, Juhl’s approach to project development – community-based wind farms, in which local land owners share ownership, that are smaller and therefore less expensive to build and operate – has the potential to catch on, especially with Obama after more green power and the jobs it produces. According to Juhl, it’s easier to get permits and secure financing for its projects through established or local sources “due to the size of each project.” Also, Juhl’s projects generally don’t require new transmission connections, another big plus.

Composite Technology Corp. That this NASDAQ-traded company hasn’t yet taken off is a clear example of what’s wrong with America’s power industry. Composite Technology makes a patented power transmission line that basically can transport more power over existing rights of way. In other power-pressed countries such as China, Composite has been drawing an audience, but not in the U.S. That’s because Composite’s power line costs more than basic copper lines, and cost is the only thing that gets the attention of the short-sighted electric utility industry (and its regulators). But with America’s transmission crisis imminent, and with the process for acquiring new rights of way interminable, Composite should have a real shot at stringing lines in its home country. Composite also has a wind energy unit.

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