Sweat Rewards

Alternative Energy

When the sky is charcoal-black and the Atlantic Ocean is lapping the shores of Ohio, your alternative energy company may be spared from mobs seeking revenge against environmentally unfriendly companies.

But alternative energy is more than a feel-good industry; it's a chance to make money. A recent study by Clean Edge, a green-technology consulting firm, suggests the alternative energy industry will generate $82 billion worth of electrical power by 2010, up from $7 billion today.

"There is quite a bit of opportunity in this market," says Gary Markowitz of Kilojolts Consulting Group, an energy business consulting firm. But he warns that entrepreneurs entering this market should be "highly educated [in energy] and have been in this field for a while. They need to really understand the marketplace."

For instance, wind power is a growing energy source, but you wouldn't want to operate a wind energy company in Florida, where the winds are typically mild. In Chicago, it's another story: Within the next five years, the city plans to buy 20 percent of its electricity for its streetlights, subways and public buildings from wind power and solar power sources. Since 1998, wind power as an alternative energy source in the world has expanded by about 30 percent a year.

Solar energy is no slouch either, with sales of photovoltaic panels (solar cells) having grown 37 percent in 2000.

Markowitz says some areas ripe for the plucking are in "distributive generation," which involves smaller, electric-generating units using alternative energy sources-like biomass, natural gas, diesel, wind, solar fuel cells-in close proximity to the end-users of the electricity.

Alternative energy is paying off for entrepreneurs like Paul Szilagyi, 45-year-old CEO of TransTeq, an 80-employee company with a fleet of 19 hybrid buses (run on gas and electric power) in Denver; it's the world's largest fleet of its kind. By the end of 2001, TransTeq was expected to clear $15 million.

Observes Szilagyi: "The three primary drivers in the transportation sector-better fuel economy, lower pollution and less congestion-are now Main Street issues throughout the world. This was not the case a decade ago."

-Geoff Williams
  • American Biomass Organization: Biomass is stored solar energy than can be converted into electricity of fuel.
  • Solar Energy Industries Association: The national trade association of solar energy manufacturers, dealers, distributors, contractors and installers
  • EnergyOnline: This site provides information on traditional energy industries so you can get a handle on the competition.

What Do You Think?
Are our picks for what's hot in 2002 on target or way off base? Tell us what you think.

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This article was originally published in the December 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sweat Rewards.

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