Chris Warren is the CEO of Clean Energy Advisors, an asset management and financial advisory service focused on renewable energy projects. With over twenty-five years of experience in the financial industry, he has acquired a unique set of skills and experiences through roles that include managing assets for high net worth investors, leading a major division of a Fortune 500 company, building three successful businesses from inception, and overseeing complex financial arrangements for over US $850 million in renewable energy assets.
Mr. Warren completed his undergraduate at Duke University. His technical training includes a Certification in Renewable Energy Management from North Carolina State University and training in Basic and Advanced Solar PV Design from Solar Energy International.
Today we chat with Chris to learn more about his fund, what are some of the interesting factors of renewable energy investments, and trends going on in the energy sector.
DarcMatter: Please provide a high level overview of your investment process and how you select projects to acquire.
Chris: CEA has developed a proprietary investment process with several key steps. First, we identify projects. Because of our experience, reputation, and relationships in the industry, we get exposed to a large number of potential projects. Then, we meet with project owners to review their projects. Next, we analyze these projects, to ensure they fit our model and consider roughly 10% of all the projects we see. Fourth, we analyze the remaining projects to ensure they’re “shovel ready” (signed PPA, interconnect, legal work, soil test, permitting, etc). Finally, we agree to take site control of a project and put it into our pipeline.
DarcMatter: What are some unique attributes of renewable energy investments for impact investors to consider?
Chris: Unique to renewable energy investments are several factors you’ll want to consider before investing. First, assess the technology risk to ensure the renewable energy project you’re considering has enough applied science behind it to ensure its long term viability. Second, assess the development risk associated with the manager. Do they have a pipeline of vetted projects already identified with known EPC timelines or are they raising money for projects yet to be identified and yet to be analyzed. Third, who is their customer? In the industry, it’s known as the off-taker. You’ll want to know the creditworthiness of the off-taker, their ability to pay, and the strength of the PPA contract.
DarcMatter: Are there any noteworthy trends within the sector?
Chris: Solar energy is exploding in the United States and worldwide. In 2014, over $18 billion was invested in the US solar power industry. Until now, virtually all of that capital came from large institutional investors. Solar energy assets have become a widely accepted, non-correlated asset class among institutional investors due to their well defined investment characteristics. Therefore, the trend is to make renewable asset ownership available to a much larger group of investors.
DarcMatter: How does CEA measure the impact its investment thesis generates?
Chris: Currently, we measure our impact in several ways. For every megawatt in service, we power roughly 175 homes, displace roughly 800 tons of CO2, and remove roughly 125 cars. We are also very active in the current discussion within the impact investment community around developing a standard for measurement of not just the environmental impact but also the positive social and public health benefits provided by clean energy.
DarcMatter: Finishing off on a fun note, tell us a little known fact about yourself.
Chris: I’m an avid music fan. In fact, most of my executive team are avid music fans. My wife and I can be seen at several music festivals throughout the year and more if time would allow.
Visit CEA’s profile page on DarcMatter at https://www.darcmatter.com/CEA to learn more.
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