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Geothermal Energy: The World’s Hottest Investment

Geothermal energy if often overshadowed by other forms of alternative energy, but investors should sit up and take note of the investment prospects.

The fact is, geothermal energy in 2010 actually produced twice as much power as solar and wind combined.

And its growth prospects are improving.

Current development of global geothermal energy pipelines now exceeds 9 gigawatts (GW). To put that in perspective, the current total of installed geothermal capacity only amounts to 11 GW worldwide – and that’s after 30 years of development.

It’s not surprising when you consider the benefits.

Geothermal energy is produced by pumping water through molten-hot rocks beneath the Earth’s surface, creating enough steam to power turbines. As a result, geothermal energy is not only clean and safe, but constant. That makes it more reliable than solar and wind.

The United States remains the world leader in geothermal energy, with 3.2 GW of installed capacity.

But a growing number of countries the world over have come to prize geothermal for its cleanliness, sustainability and abundance.

In Africa, for example, Kenya is trying to make the most of its estimated 10,000 megawatts (MW) of geothermal potential.

As it stands now, Kenya only produces 1,200 MW of total energy, serving just 20% of its population. Worse yet, the country estimates electricity demand will rise to 21,620 MW by 2030. That means Kenya will have to rely on a wide range of energy sources.

That’s why the country plans to make geothermal power produce half the nation’s energy by 2018. Currently, Olkaria – Africa’s first geothermal power field – produces 210 MW of electricity. However, Kenya aims to boost that output to 5,530 MW by 2030.

Other plants are expected to come on-line by that time, as well. In fact, the African Development Bank is putting $145 million into the Menengai project. That will cover development of the first 200 MW of power, and the Geothermal Development Co. is working to secure additional financing from the China Development Bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

When all is said and done, the Menengai field could produce up to 1,650 MW of power.

Turkey is another hot spot for geothermal energy, with 7,000 MW of potential energy. The Turkish Geothermal Association estimates there will be 500 MW of installed capacity online by 2015, up from 100 MW currently. Turkey is widely regarded as one of the hottest geothermal markets in Europe.

It’s not just developing countries, either.

A new report from engineering consultant Sinclair Knight Merz says geothermal resources in the United Kingdom could provide 9.5 GW of power. That could meet as much as one-fifth of the U.K.’s total demand.

Dr. Ryan Law, chair of the REA Deep Geothermal Group, made the case that the U.K. shouldn’t miss the opportunity to take part in what he thinks will grow into a $47 billion industry by 2020. Especially since it’s already lagging other European countries in development. The geothermal industry in Germany, for instance, now employs 6,000 people and has attracted $5 billion of investment, REA says.

Two Investment-Grade Geothermal Stocks

Now, if you’re looking to get in on this fast-growing industry, there are a couple of companies worth looking at.

The first is Calpine Corp. (NYSE: CPN). Calpine is North America’s leading geothermal power producer, with 15 plants generating up to 735 MW of energy – 40% of all geothermal power being produced in the United States.

Calpine also owns, operates and leases natural gas-fired plants. So it’s benefited from low natural gas prices, which have lowered its input costs and caused an industry-wide shift from coal to the cheaper, cleaner fuel.

Another interesting company is LSB Industries (NYSE: LXU), which manufactures geothermal heat pumps, as well as nitrogen-based chemical products. After topping analysts’ estimates in the first quarter, the company suffered a setback in the form of an explosion at one of its chemical plants in El Dorado, AK.

However, the selloff that followed was a bit overdone, considering there were no serious injuries and the plant was insured. The company says uninsured losses will amount to no more than $3 million, or $0.13 a share.

Analysts forecast 2012 earnings of $3.02 a share prior to the explosion. If you subtract $0.13, you still get earnings of $2.89 a share and a forward P/E of 9.6. Better yet, the company has no net debt.

Northland Securities has reiterated its “Outperform” rating on the stock, though it did lower its price target to $38 from $41. Still, that represents a 43% premium over LSB’s current share price.

Bottom line: Both of these companies have strong, diverse businesses and their potential for profit is escalating alongside geothermal power.


Jason Simpkins

Jason Simpkins

, Energy Editor

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