Buffett to double down on solar and wind investment


American tycoon Warren Buffett has spoken this week of his desire to double the level of investment his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. company is committing to solar and wind projects.

Speaking at the Edison Electric Institute's annual convention in Las Vegas yesterday, Buffett appeared to be uncertain of exactly how much expenditure his company had committed to renewable energy. After his deputy Greg Abel reminded him that the figure was $15 billion, Buffett immediately remarked: "There’s another $15 billion ready to go, as far as I’m concerned."

Although such ebullience is common from Buffet – a bold and outspoken investor if ever there was one – his remarks are an accurate reflection of the kinds of big-dollar thinking now being applied to the U.S. solar power industry, particularly among top-level captains of industries such as Buffett.

"Buffett has always steered Berkshire Hathaway toward the future," Lawrence Cunningham, George Washington University professor and author, told Bloomberg. "Lately, that has meant intensifying the company’s focus on rudimentary, long-lasting businesses."

Longer-term thinking

Although the slow-burn nature of renewable investment returns is at odds with Buffett’s usual business approach, the fact that the industry offers opportunities for reinvestment and further acquisitions appeals to the 83-year-old's competitive nature.

His Berkshire Hathaway company has a subsidiary, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, that operates electric grids in the U.K., natural gas pipelines across the U.S. and electricity utilities in a number of large states, including Nevada and Oregon. In the solar sector, the company owns solar PV plants in Arizona and California, and is unique in the industry in that it retains all of its earnings. With $30 billion on the table, those solar-fuelled earnings could become massive over the next decade as the U.S. solar industry shines.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy CEO Greg Abel has said that the company is going to ‘keep moving' in the renewable energy field, using tax credits to offset profit at other businesses and allow further investment in the RE sector.

As the U.S. presses ahead with nationwide plans to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by 30% between now and 2030, Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s assurances for the industry have already been welcomed with open arms by many renewable energy experts in the U.S.

"If he says it, he means it," said Jeff Matthews, a Berkshire shareholder and writer of books about the company. “The entire complexion of the company has changed."

A $30 billion boost from the world’s fifth-largest company would be a grand statement of intent that the future for renewable energy in the U.S. is brighter than many could have ever imagined.

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