Q: The war in Ukraine has disturbed the energy markets. How does it affect your Smart Energy strategy?

A: The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent use of gas supplies as a political weapon have created a new sense of urgency in the need to implement the decarbonisation of global energy systems. Governments worldwide have hastily explored various possibilities in order to reduce the dependency on imported energy sources, accelerate the buildout of their own renewable power generation and encourage local manufacturing. In turn, this has also had a strong influence on us investing in the clean energy sector.

In the US, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, that allocates an estimated $370bn in tax and rebate incentives for clean energy and climate change programs as part of a larger package. This marked a major turning point in US climate policy, with the IRA including a wide range of investment and production tax credits across renewables, electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen and storage supply chains.

At the same time, the EU is speeding up plans to boost its share of energy from renewable sources, while simultaneously accelerating plans for a green hydrogen infrastructure, ensuring a significant transformational shift from fossil-based to zero-carbon energy sources.

European and US programs are expected to unleash several trillion dollars of cumulative investments in clean energy development over the coming decade.

The European and US programs are expected to unleash several trillion dollars of cumulative investments in clean energy development over the coming decade, with a flow of announcements of new investments expected as soon as the exact procedures to apply for the incentive schemes are known.

During 2022, we increased our focus on those companies we consider to be the most direct beneficiaries of the announced programs. This included notably strengthening our exposure in the clean power generation cluster through adding investments in the solar energy supply chain as well as maintaining a strong footprint in energy conversion and storage and energy efficiency clusters. The announced government frameworks now give the companies very high planning security on how to build out their businesses for many years to come, with the increasingly better economics of clean energy solutions adding to the existing strong momentum.

Q: What do you understand by “Smart Energy”? What areas does your investment universe cover?

A: The traditional energy sector can largely be seen as a play on commodities, be it coal, natural gas or oil. The advent of the clean energy sector, based on renewable power generation, is much more about applying the latest state-of-the-art technologies in manufacturing and device/system improvements than anything else. Clean energy solutions tend to be highly technology intensive; you have to do it ’smart’ to drive down costs through economies of scale, integration and efficiency improvements. This starts with cheap, mass-manufactured and automated production of high efficiency solar cells and the buildout of an intelligent electrical grid including integrated storage units to all the energy efficiency technologies aiming to maximise their use of electricity. At the same time, entire new end markets like the transportation sector, the heating of buildings, industrial sectors and so on need to be electrified, driving innovations in material technologies, energy conversion efficiencies and mass assembly.

Our investment universe covers the whole clean energy value chain focused on electrification trends, starting from clean power generation, its transmission and distribution through a smart electrical grid, energy conversion through power semiconductors, energy storage through batteries and hydrogen, and finally all the companies offering energy efficiency technologies for the transportation, industrials, buildings or AI enhanced data processing. In total, we have identified approximately 250 highly focused companies that fit into our investment universe.

Q:The battle against climate change by decarbonisation is certainly the main driver of your Smart Energy strategy. But what are the most attractive investable (sub-)themes within your universe over the next years? Please give a few examples of companies/kind of companies for better illustration.

A: Renewable electricity will dominate the future of energy supply, and will be cheap and abundantly available. The electrical grid will become increasingly decentralised and bi-directional, with an intelligent grid management system ensuring that supply and demand are always matched everywhere in the most efficient way. Entire new end markets that so far depend on oil or natural gas will become electrified, necessitating significant investments in their transformation, as we are currently witnessing in the transportation sector. Synthetic fuels based on green hydrogen and CO2 will be produced, and find applications wherever weight and energy density is a critical issue, as in the aviation industry.

The structural growth towards electrification will at least last for the next three or four decades – several global macroeconomic cycles

All this shows the tasks and thus the investment opportunities that lie ahead of us are massive. The structural growth towards electrification will at least last for the next three or four decades – several global macroeconomic cycles – and is therefore immensely exciting, notably for investors with a very long-term investment horizon.

We focus our investments on companies addressing structural growth segments that are characterised by high barriers of entry, as reflected by strong market shares or differentiated technologies. In an energy world moving towards electricity, we continue to like technology enablers. These can be components or (sub)systems suppliers. This also notably encompasses semiconductor power management companies that manufacture highly efficient power conversion devices as used in solar inverters, charging, battery management systems or for the control of highly efficient electric motors.

Q: Apart from operating in a promising field, what other criteria do companies have to fulfil to get into the fund? (E.g. do you prefer well-established larger companies or younger smaller companies that offer new products/technologies?)

A: We always seek a balanced portfolio approach, focusing on the best positioned companies in different growth segments while at the same time maintaining a certain level of diversification, also from a regional perspective. The Fund has a growth bias compared to the broader indices. We put a particular focus on mid-cap companies with a strong technology focus serving market subsegments with promising long-term potential, allowing them to outgrow the broader markets over an economic cycle.