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More interest in green products: Soc Gen

Trend comes as industry is becoming cost competitive, regulators renew focus on optimising their energy mix and technologies develop.

"We are seeing major advancements in the battery storage industry that is scaling up dramatically," says Mr Mallo. "This is a bit of a Holy Grail."

SOCIETE Generale sees rising interest from Asia in investments in renewable energy, even as the French bank looks to globally deploy 100 billion euros (S$158 billion) into the green sector by 2020, according to recent interviews with two senior bankers.

The trend comes as the changing cost dynamics are shining a new light on the renewable energy sector.

Indeed, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) notes that the average cost of utility-scale solar photovoltaic cells has plunged by 73 per cent since 2010, and by 23 per cent for wind-generated energy.

"The trade-off was about sustainability versus affordability. The industry is becoming competitive, or close to being competitive, without subsidies as inducements," says Daniel Mallo, head of natural resources and infrastructure, Asia-Pacific, at Societe Generale.

Mr Mallo notes that regulators around the world, and in Asia as well, are renewing their focus on optimising their energy mix. He points to examples in Taiwan, where the government has made "a clear policy choice" to cut the use of nuclear energy. As a result, Taiwan is becoming an emerging market for the development of offshore wind energy, along with South Korea and Japan. Offshore wind power refers to power generated by wind farms sitting in water bodies.

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On the technology front, there are also worthwhile developments. Again taking offshore wind as an example, floating applications are now being built, which is a shift from the typical use of fixed-foundation wind farms, says Mr Mallo. The wind turbines are expanding in size too. In some examples, the blade's length is close to the length of an Airbus A380's wingspan.

There has also been a eureka moment of sorts for the renewable energy space, as companies are hoping to break new ground in the area of storage of renewable energy.

For example, Tesla is working with BP to build the oil giant's first battery storage project at one of its US windfarms. Tesla has similarly installed some battery storage facilities in parts of Australia.

This comes as Irena has also estimated that the cost of battery-storage technologies will fall by as much as 60 per cent in the coming decade.

"We are seeing major advancements in the battery storage industry that is scaling up dramatically," says Mr Mallo. "This is a bit of a Holy Grail."

That being said, it remains unclear how far battery storage can be sustained, as companies and bankers watch closely the impact of degradation of the battery cells. Supply of minerals that make up the batteries, including lithium and cobalt, also bears an impact.

But the rising demand for green investments by both institutions and consumers adds to the drive of getting renewable energy projects off the ground with financing options.

Notably, there is rising interest in green bonds, with the global primary issuance of green and social bonds gaining 50 per cent in 2017 from a year ago.

This is expected to hit some 160 billion euros this year, up just over 15 per cent from 2017, notes Raj Malhotra, head of Societe Generale's debt capital markets for Asia-Pacific.

While this trend remains largely a European story, it is expected to spill over to Asia, he adds, with markets such as China, India, and Indonesia, getting in on the action.

"We do expect more and more banks to look at this closely. They already lend to a lot of these sectors. But by issuing green bonds, companies can raise funds offshore," he says.

Mr Malhotra adds that the rising use of green bonds can also spur a broader focus on transparency in terms of how the fund proceeds will be used. As it is, there continues to be concern over the diverging standards in defining green investments.

Mr Malhotra is sanguine that projects can be refinanced even in a higher rate environment, given this is a period of rate normalisation, but acknowledged that companies would have to be much more nimble in the overall bond market today as the bond space has moved towards a more "window-driven" environment.

Green infrastructure projects can also take up a bit more equity, should there be a shortfall in debt, he adds.

What he remains optimistic about is the groundswell, as investors are keen to go green. Mr Malhotra notes that investors are asking companies on funding roadshows for their green credentials. Investors are asking the same of banks such as Societe Generale as well, he adds.

"Issuers are giving this careful thought. Investors are becoming more demanding as well," says Mr Malhotra. "It's not a box-ticking exercise."

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