The S&P Global Clean Energy Index, a diversified benchmark of 30 clean energy companies from around the world, underperformed the S&P 500 every calendar year of the last five. Over that time (2008-2012) it lost 88 percent of its total value, according to Bloomberg. This year, however, clean energy stocks have strongly outperformed U.S. equities overall (which have themselves surged to record highs in 2013). So what’s the deal? Is clean energy truly back?
Though there is no doubt many cleantech companies could not survive another economic downturn the likes of the one we’ve seen the last five years, that also means that none of the companies in the game today are pretenders. The sector is probably stronger now than it ever has been, and not just because investor cash is finally flowing in: Entrepreneurs have finally figured out how to make money in clean energy.

That’s true for S&P Global Clean Energy Index constituents like First Solar, a utility-scale photovoltaics provider, and it’s also true of earlier stage companies that are set to make a splash in clean energy. The recession’s secret silver lining is that it forced companies to innovate their technologies and their business models simultaneously.

Here in New England, we have no shortage of innovative clean energy upstarts whose businesses look promising. Altaeros, for instance, makes a wind turbine unlike any you’ve seen before – it hovers hundreds or even thousands of feet in the air, where winds are stronger and no one can complain about a windmill ruining the view. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of the turbine in action:

Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company is also putting turbines in unusual places, in this case, deep in the ocean, where the company harnesses the massive energy of tidal currents. Big Belly Solar (hailing from Newton, Massachusetts) has actually combined two clean technologies – recycling and solar energy – to revolutionize public trash collection. Its waste and recycling stations (which, by the way, can send email and text message alerts when they’re full) can now be seen from Times Square to Viborg, Denmark.

There’s never any telling where a market as new and swiftly changing as clean energy might be headed, but it’s safe to say that things are looking up. And that’s good news: After all, what other industry is good for investors, global economies and the environment at the same time?

Jake Navarro is an account supervisor for Greenough. Send him an email at