Investment Trends in Clean Energy

Monday, June 5, 2017 | Kylie Marshall


On April 21, the Kenan-Flagler Energy Club celebrated Earth Day with a lecture by alumnus Rob Glen (Arts & Sciences, ’78).

A senior executive based in San Francisco for Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), Glen sets the prominent industry analyst firm’s global service, analysis and customer strategies. He also leads its business relationships with organizations including Chevron, General Electric and Google.

Glen’s presentation offered MBA students an update on investment trends in clean energy as well as a review of the major themes driving his firm’s research activities. He capped it with some advice on the career opportunities he sees in the energy industry, the companies it serves, and energy policy and finance.

Drawing from BNEF data, Glen said investments in clean energy sectors globally peaked in 2015 at $349 billion before dipping by 17 percent last year. China remains a significant driver in the industry, Glen said, responsible both for the rise in investments as well as for much of the decline in 2016. Additionally, he said investments in solar and wind generation continue to account for the vast majority of dollars going into the sector.

Glen noted renewable power’s share of the electricity system, while still small on the whole, had become significant enough in California and other major markets to challenge the grid operators and incumbent utilities charged with managing them. He said the rapid decline in solar panels, wind turbines and batteries was destined to make these resources ever more competitive with conventional resources such as gas and coal. In addition to the challenges of integrating intermittent resources with the grid, the distributed application of the new technologies has put the traditional utility business model to the test.

Perhaps the most significant challenge to that model, however, is coming from the growing appetite for clean energy among large utility customers.

“The bigger disruptive factor is the fact that Apple, GM, Google and other major brands are making commitments to go exclusively renewable,” Glen said.

In 2016, for example, Amazon procured through power purchase agreements for approximately 650 MW in clean energy, including a mix of solar and wind projects, followed by Google with 565 MW, with solely wind energy.

Glen also spoke to the public policy’s influence on the industry.

“Carbon trading schemes are battling carbon tax schemes around the world,” Glen said.

While some companies are pushing for the expansion of cap-and-trade programs, others see a standard tax as more straightforward and profitable.

Looking forward, Glen spoke of the potential of electric vehicles, citing that 35 percent of cars purchased by 2040 will be electric. Between 2020 and 2030, electric vehicles will become cheaper than typical cars on an unsubsidized basis, BNEF says.

The Kenan Institute is proud to foster conversations like these on the effects emerging technologies and evolving public policy can have on private enterprise in the United States and around the world.

rob 3 March 2016

Rob Glen is Western US Market Leader for Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance (BNEF) division. He is a member of BNEF’s senior management team involved in setting the firm’s strategies with respect to services, analysis and customers. In the Bay area, he oversees its partnerships with organizations ranging from Chevron to Google to the California electric grid operator.. Prior to opening the San Francisco office for BNEF in 2008, Rob ran for five years the financial markets segment for the New York-based 451 Group, a leading industry analyst firm focused on the business of enterprise IT innovation. He entered the market research industry after 15 years on Wall Street, mostly as an investment banker at Prudential Securities focused on the enterprise technology sector. He began his career as a policy journalist and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in more than 100 newspapers as well as the Economist and National Journal. Rob received a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MA from the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University and an MBA from the New York University Stern School of Business, where he was named a Stern Scholar. He and his wife, Susan Glen, live in San Francisco with their three children: Isabel, Charlotte and Max. He is a co-founder the local folk/rock group, the Big Twang Theory, and is a longtime coach in the San Francisco Little League.