Written by Karen Roche, Publisher, The Energy Report
Equities and Economics Report writer Victor GonÃ§alves, in this exclusive interview with The Energy Report, talks with us about what he thinks "being green" means for energy. It's more than having a smaller carbon footprint, and more about using energy efficiently. He's enthusiastic about the prospects for rare earths, saying they are going to be a "huge phenomenon."
The Energy Report: Victor, your Green Money Report website focuses on the fundamental shift in the use of energy. I'm interested in your impressions of what's happened recently at the global climate conferences, specifically Stockholm, and if you think the world will ever come to some type of climate treaty in the next decade.
Victor Goncalves: It's going to be a tug of war. A lot of the controversy that's coming out now with respect to climate change is a question of, is it actually a product of human behavior, or is what's happening normal in a multi-billion or a multi-million-year cycle? Even with the controversy, the fact is we are polluting our own environment and I think something's got to be done about that. Based on that, yes, I think we will come to some sort of agreement and probably in the next ten years.
TER: What will be the driving factor? If you look at countries like China and India, they're in a huge growth pattern. This is one of their big sticking points. They need cheap energy. What's going to motivate them to come to the table?
VG: At the end of the day, they need to see that there's going to be a positive impact for going green. Going green is going to have to make more economic sense than staying dirty, effectively. There are a few ways you can do that. You can just say, okay, India and China, either clean up or we'll get our goods elsewhere. That's a little hard to do, but if it came down to doing something like that, I'm sure that would nudge them in the right way. I think the other factor, and more importantly, is the fact that just the price of green is going down.
The price of solar power has gone down a ton. The price of wind energy has gone down something like 60% in the past two decades, so we are in a pattern where the price of these energies is going down. Now the other issue which I'd like to bring up, is something that I've been trying to focus on a bit more in the newsletter. When "green" is talked about it's been in the context of creating energy in a greener fashion. I think that's a fair synopsis of what most people are trying to see green as. But we forget to look at green also as "let's use less" or "let's take the energy we do create and use it more efficiently." For example, thermal power that is used to create electricity is very inefficient. Probably 20% to 30% of the energy created through coal burning or uranium burning will actually convert into energy that comes out at out power outlets. That is, I think, a massive issue.
TER: So you're not looking at energy per se, but looking at technology or process changes.
VG: We're looking at both, to be quite fair. For example, with the amount of coal-fired power plants going up in China or India, it would be nice to see fewer of them built. But they're probably not going to tear down the coal-fired power plants that are up now and say "let's spend all this money to do something else." What we probably can do is make the ones that exist operate at a much higher efficiency. And instead of building new ones, let's build something greener. So I think it'll be a dual process just because tearing down existing plants that have 20 or 30 year life probably isn't going to happen.
TER: Any companies out there that you're following that are pursuing some interesting energy-saving concepts?
VG: I've been following a company called Legend Power (TSX.V:LPX). What they do is quite impressive. Most commercial buildings have the ability to access a regular power, electricity plug in, or peak power, but you pay for the peak power just to have that available. They pay for all this extra power to be available to them. What Legend Power does is install modulators, which reduce the power on demand at the plug when it's not being used. They calibrate the amount of power to the outlet for the demand you're going to use. That's what I think is a brilliant move, especially when it comes to a big box store, Best Buy, for example. They're closed between 10 o'clock at night and eight in the morning; that's 10 hours of peak power that they could be reducing. Legend Power's gotten a lot of work orders and they're just developing the business. I think this is patented technology and systems, so they'll be a big player in the system and probably the leader. So, again, huge, huge innovations in saving energy.
TER: You mentioned earlier we were talking about the price of green going down. You specifically mentioned solar and the prices coming way, way down. What's causing that? Are there actually improvements in technology of the batteries or is it just merely because the government's subsidizing?
VG: Government subsidy does not make the cost of energy go down. It causes the end user cost to go down, but it's still costing X amount of dollars; it's just subsidized. The actual true costs have been coming down a lot and that's of key interest to me. Yes, there are subsidies and so on that are making it very affordable, but the true cost has been coming down a lot, too. Solar panels have been becoming thinner and thinner, able to retain more electricity, and they've been using more things such as lithium, rare earths. They've been using all these types of rare metals that can capture and store the energy better or retain it, instead of the sunlight bouncing right off. All these different types of metals are being used to really increase the efficiency. I think we've just really scratched the surface on this based on what can happen. I think solar will be incredibly viable and we're in the process of doing that. That's, again, the situation of not necessarily creating more, but taking the square footage of solar panels and making it more efficient.
TER: I'd like to move onto rare earths in a minute, but have another question about solar. Any companies in that arena that you think are well-positioned?
VG: Yes, Acro Energy Technologies (TSX.V:ART) is one. In the solar space the part that isn't really talked about very much is installation. After all, they have to put these things in and it's not exactly like trying to change oil in a car; there's a lot more to it.
The process is quite complicated in the sense that you've got the panels, you've got your generator station, you've got your capacitors, you've got all these things and you need a group that can do this to scale. Acro has really been trying to become that "go-to" installer and become more of a consolidator to get that scale. It's really one-stop shopping for the potential end user.
So I think Acro is going to be quite impressive. Exactly when, I don't know, but it's something I'm watching at the moment.
TER: Let's move on to rare earths, which have been getting a lot of buzz at the various mining conferences. What's your viewpoint on them and the investment opportunities they represent?
VG: Rare earth elements and rare earth metals, in general, are going to be a huge phenomenon. It's like in '07 when we had a uranium boom and uranium went from $8 to $136.
What it comes down to is these rare earths are needed for so many things. For example, hybrid cars are really the driver for rare earths' increase in price. But not just hybrid cars. You've got tantalum and niobium being used in a lot of other things and these rare earths are going to be in huge demand.
I don't think we've gotten ahead of ourselves with the demand or with the price of these rare earths. We don't have enough to supply the markets fast enough. That's partially what's causing the price to move up. There's also supply constraint out of China. China controls 95% of the rare earths and says, okay, we'll just keep them for ourselves, thanks. You've got to fight for the rest of the 5% of them out there. So that's obviously causing major upswing in the price of rare earths. That has been the main driver. But that coupled with a shift in how we do things - we're going to see a ton more hybrid vehicles go on the road over the next couple of years and each one of them is going to require 50 pounds of rare earths. That's going to add up.
TER: Jack Lifton, who speaks at conferences about the rare earths, asserts that it's really a rush to production. When the next two or three companies actually get to production, the amount they produce will probably satisfy demand for decades to come.
VG: Yes, it is a race to production. Like with uranium, for example, there's plenty of uranium out there for the market. It's just whoever does it first will obviously satisfy a lot of the market and I think that's quite the possibility for rare earths.
The best part for an investor is that it's not going to happen today or tomorrow or next year. We've got a little bit of time. We've got some idea as to which companies have been in the space for a long time and have had more lead time to develop a project and get to the stage where they're working the economics of it. Those are the companies I'm really interested in. Obviously, there's a lot of brand-new companies coming out of the gate who will represent an excellent investment opportunity because of the sizzle in the market, but I would have to hear something incredibly compelling from a very small junior to sway myself from some of the larger companies.
TER: So who are you following, then, in the rare earths?
VG: Avalon Rare Metals (TSX:AVL) is kind of a darling because I bought it so cheap. I've been following that from around the 40 cent range. It had a very impressive run to over $4. The most important thing is not the tenfold run in price. It's also the increase in market valuation because a $4 market cap on a company with 80 million shares outstanding is a company that's worth a lot of money and is representative of what they've got.
They've got one of the largest deposits, they're working on feasibility, they're working on all the things it's going to take to put it in production. Based on its size, I don't think the fact that it's in the north is going to be a major hurdle. If anything, due to the relationship with the native communities up there, I think that's actually going to be a benefit. So Avalon I personally believe is going to be probably the first or second company to attain that status, and they're very well funded, working towards their end goal. They're considering actually using wind power to power their project because they are located in one of the windiest places up in the Northwest Territories. So I think that really attests to a legitimately green company. This company is the type that's just going to keep moving up and up and up because they're going to keep hitting the milestones without anything hindering it.
TER: So they're one of the first one or two to get to production. Are there other ones that you are following that are in a similar situation?
VG: I think Rare Element Resources Ltd. (TSX.V:RES) is certainly in a similar situation. I have a personal bias towards Avalon just because I have so much more of Avalon stock, but that's not to say by any means that Rare Element Resources is not in a situation where they can really progress. They've had a similar run in their stock from give or take 40 cents to $4 as well. They have a tighter share structure, but they also have a bit of a small project. However, it's not in the remote situation (i.e., it's not in the Northwest Territories), so that's kind of nice. But I think both these companies are going to be real winners in this situation. It'll be like having a Goldcorp and a Barrick. It's not necessarily one or the other. I think it'll be really both.
TER: On BNN you mentioned a company named Threegold Resources Inc. (THG:TSX.V) that seems to be in a similar space.
VG: Threegold is in the rare earth space. And, again, not a lot of the companies that are really in a low, low market cap (i.e., 15 cents and lower with not very many shares out) compel me in the rare earth space, but Threegold certainly did for multiple reasons. I've actually followed this company for quite a while, since inception actually, just haphazardly because somebody presented it to me. When I saw them come out with these rare earth numbers, I was quite intrigued and I sat down with the president probably a couple of months ago. He told me in University his Masters was on rare earths. A lot of these rare earths companies, especially the ones just sprouting up now, have nice projects, have good consultants, but the people who actually work for the company don't always have the highest expertise in the area.
Well, this is a company who has a guy in charge that spent most of his academic career working on and researching the rare earth space and that, to me, makes a big difference.
I think it's around 17 cents today. Right now we're still waiting on news on their gold project which could end up being a new discovery. If it comes back positive, I think it'll be a game changer for the company. This could have major potential. That's my opinion.
TER: Are there other sources of energy or energy phasing alternatives that you can discuss?
VG: There's lots we can discuss, but primarily I've been sticking to those just as an area where I've been comfortable with. Geothermal is obviously something that's done well and going to continue to do well. I still think the major geothermal phase is yet to come because we've seen a bit of a bump in it a while back and it's taken the back burner again. I think we're probably due for something. Exactly when, I can't really say, but I think the geothermal phase is going to start seeing some appreciation. Some companies such as Western Geothermal and Nevada Geothermal are probably going to see some appreciation based on that.
TER: We appreciate your time, once again, Victor. This has been very interesting.
A proud and avowed Keynesian, Victor GonÃ§alves developed a strong background in economics at the University of Winnipeg, where he served as a Professor's Assistant as well as earning his degree. His Equities and Economics Report has been accurately picking winners and calling market direction. In 2007, for instance, he correctly predicted the Dow Jones topping 14,000 points and pegged uranium reaching $136 per pound and many more. In addition to EER, Victor also produces the Green Dollar Report, as well as writes for a number of print and electronic publications including CIM Magazine (Canadian Institute of Mining), Western Standard, Barron's and Kitco. He also has been featured on BNN, Mining Industry TV and at numerous industry events and conferences.
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1) Karen Roche of The Energy Report conducted this interview. She personally and/or her family own none of the companies mentioned in this interview.
2) The following companies mentioned in the interview are sponsors of The Gold Report or The Energy Report: Acro Energy Technologies, Avalon Rare Metals, Rare Element Resources.
3) Victor GonÃ§alves: I personally and/or my family own the following companies mentioned in this interview: Avalon. Threegold I or my family has been paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview: Avalon Rare Metals, Acro Energy Technologies, Legend Power