Back to top

Q4 2021 Review

Ron Pernick's picture

Quarterly overview of stock index performance and the top trends impacting the state of clean tech.

In the new apocalyptic dark comedy “Don’t Look Up,” a power-hungry, science-denying president (played impeccably by Meryl Streep), a messianic tech leader, and a supportive, fact-denying media exhort people to “don’t look up,” in hopes that their followers will blindly ignore the impending doom of a comet barreling straight for Earth. An allegory for climate change, “Don’t Look Up” [spoiler alert] takes a grim view of humankind’s ability to save itself (even with Leonardo DiCaprio’s and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters doing their darndest to motivate code-red alert action). While my family was depressed by the movie (not exactly uplifting Xmas fare), I also walked away from the film inspired to work even more aggressively to help forward the energy transition. As I wrote in last quarter’s newsletter, we are about halfway through a 50-year transition cycle, and 2021 proved that solar, wind, storage, and EVs are well along the path to displacing their fossil-fuel counterparts.   

Reflecting this overall transition, Tesla’s market cap is now greater than the market cap of oil majors BP, Chevron, Exxon, Shell, and Total combined. Similarly, the annual performance of the Nasdaq Clean Edge Green Energy Total Return Index (CEXX) has outperformed the Energy Select Sector Total Return Index (IXETR) in four out of the past five years. After a record 2020 (up 185%), the CEXX declined 2.6% in 2021 while a pandemic-fueled rebound of oil and gas (along with supply volatility) saw the IXETR gain 53.4%. Cumulatively, over the past five years, CEXX increased 359.13% while IXETR declined 6.22%.

During Q4, CELS (U.S. clean energy) increased 8.77% and GWE (global wind) was down 2.63%. Infrastructure-focused QGRD (global smart grid & grid infrastructure) and HHO (U.S. water) gained 11.10% and 12.19% respectively, both beating out the S&P 500 (up 11.03%). IXE (Energy Select) continued to gain during Q4, up 28.30% for the quarter.


Q4 2021 Index Performance (Total Return)


As of December 31, 2021 (Total Return)


(U.S. Clean Energy)

GWE (Global Wind)


(U.S. Water)

 QGRD (Global Grid)

S&P 500


(Energy Select)















For the full year 2021, on a total return basis, CELS and GWE both declined, down 2.64% and 10.30% respectively. QGRD and HHO both increased, up 29.34% and 33.30% respectively, compared to the S&P 500’s 28.71% increase. During the same timeframe, IXE rose a remarkable 53.43%.


2021 Full Year Index Performance (Total Return)

First Trust ETFs tracking Nasdaq Clean Edge indexes equaled more than $5 billion in assets under management as of January 2022.


While great progress is being made on the renewable electricity front, many sectors, such as marine transportation, aviation, and steel and concrete production require highly concentrated energy. For these applications, the lowest-carbon solution is a zero-emission fuel like green hydrogen. Unlike traditional hydrogen production (which requires fossil fuels), green hydrogen is produced entirely from renewable energy sources, generally through electrolysis. Green hydrogen is not yet widely available, in part due to higher production costs, but many organizations are actively working to make it commercially viable as companies and nations work to meet net-zero goals. Sixty of these organizations are presented in the Green Hydrogen Market Map below, which is a non-comprehensive list of major players in this sector. These organizations are involved in every phase of green hydrogen, from research and production to solidifying the supply chain.



Below is a list of the top 10 best and worst constituent performers across all Clean Edge Nasdaq indexes (CELS, QGRD, HHO, and GWE) during 2021. Among the top 10, four constituents came from our wind index (including the top three overall). Among the top losers, all came from our U.S. green energy index, as clean energy pared back significant gains from 2020 and newer/less established companies looked to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive market.

Best and Worst Constituents (2021)



China Datang Corp. Renewable Power Co. Ltd.


Romeo Power, Inc.


China Suntien Green Energy Corp., Ltd.


Workhorse Group, Inc.


China Longyuan Power Group Corp. Ltd.


TPI Composites, Inc.




CBAK Energy Technology, Inc.


Montrose Environmental Group, Inc.


GreenPower Motor Co., Inc.


ON Semiconductor Corp.


Array Technologies, Inc.


SGL Carbon SE


Azure Power Global Ltd.


PSI Software AG


ChargePoint Holdings, Inc.


Acuity Brands, Inc.


Advent Technologies Holdings, Inc.


MYR Group, Inc.


Bloom Energy Corp.



2021 was a remarkable year for the growth and expansion of clean tech. Below is just a sampling of some of the key highlights:

  • More than 450 banks & asset managers pledged $130 trillion for the energy transition at COP26
  • Activist investor Engine No. 1 won 3 Exxon board seats, with the support of big investment firms such as BlackRock
  • The G7 ended financing of new coal plants overseas
  • Tesla hit a $1 trillion market cap, making it more valuable than BP, Chevron, Exxon, Shell, and Total combined
  • The renewable energy market had its best year on record, with the International Energy Agency projecting 290 GW of global renewable energy capacity additions in 2021

Looking ahead, what will 2022 bring? Below are some of the top trends we expect in the year ahead:

  • Insurance challenges confront fossil fuels. Like recent activist and institutional investor actions to reduce exposure to fossil fuels, we believe that insurers and reinsurers will move aggressively to shift support away from fossil fuel players. This could make it increasingly difficult to build new coal, oil, and natural gas projects, as lack of insurance coverage makes financing untenable for most investors. For more info, check out:
  • A reassessment of SPACs. Special purpose acquisition corporations (SPACs), which have become increasingly popular and resulted in hundreds of companies going public via a less stringent approval process than the traditional initial public offering (IPO), could face greater scrutiny in 2022. While it’s impossible to predict with certainty, we expect that increased regulation being advocated by Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler could put SPACs more in line with traditional IPOs. For more info, check out: and
  • Year of the large. One of the great things about clean energy (e.g., solar and energy storage), is that many of these technologies are equally effective in both large-scale and distributed implementations. That said, we believe that 2022 will be the year of utility-scale projects in offshore wind, energy storage, and solar. We also expect to see some of the first large-scale green hydrogen projects come online in 2022 and beyond. In the U.S. alone, utility-scale solar is projected to account for nearly half of all electricity capacity additions in 2022, coming in at a record 21.5 GW. Utility-scale batteries are also projected to come in at a record 5.1 GW. For more info, check out:

The information contained above is provided for informational and educational purposes only. Clean Edge is not an investment adviser, and none of the information, including any Nasdaq Clean Edge index, should be construed as investment advice or relied on as the basis for making any kind of investment decision. Neither Clean Edge nor any of its affiliates makes any recommendation whatsoever to buy or sell any securities, fund, or financial product or any representation about the financial condition of any company, fund, or financial product. Information regarding any Clean Edge index is not a guarantee of future performance. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied. Past performance is not indicative of future results and should never be relied upon for making any kind of investment decisions. Investors should undertake their own due diligence and carefully evaluate companies before investing. ADVICE FROM A SECURITIES PROFESSIONAL IS STRONGLY ADVISED.