You probably know Michael Webber the corporate governance watchdog, who holds public shipowners to account with his annual “scorecard” of business practices.
And you might know Michael Webber the veteran equity analyst, named shipping’s top researcher five years running between 2015 and 2019 by Institutional Investor magazine.
But you may not be familiar with Michael Webber the renewable-energy advisor.
It’s a role that surfaced only in March with word that Webber’s Armistead Street Partners had advised Ardmore Shipping on its methanol-to-hydrogen project with clean-energy company Element 1 and lender Maritime Partners.
Webber has worn the new hat since 2019 and it flows naturally from his increasing involvement in the energy sector and renewables since he broke off from Wells Fargo bank to form his own shop.
Momentum for the strategic advisory role accelerated after Webber Research & Advisory forged a partnership with Houston energy engineering firm EPC Risks in March 2020. The venture is known as W|EPC.
Armistead represents another business leg alongside Webber’s research into energy-infrastructure companies — including shipowners — and renewable-energy specialists.
“We provide solutions for people on either side of that nexus, whether it’s emerging technologies looking for the right strategic partners, finding the right commercial avenues or capital,” Webber tells TW+.
“We’re fortunate to be in a really unique position, in that we’ve been able to combine both technical engineering and capital markets expertise, which has helped us form a broad and detailed view of the playing field. We’re not out pitching deals like a bank.”
Armistead is selective about choosing clients and is influenced by an in-house energy engineering team that has grown to six in Houston, with extensive experience in hydrogen, carbon capture, methanol and LNG.
“If they keep circling back to a particular technology, I’ve learned to pay attention. If we really believe in it and the people behind it, the rest should take care of itself,” Webber says.
For Armistead, one of the first big mandates comes with Ardmore’s involvement in the e1 Marine project.
“We’ve worked with Ardmore for a long time in different capacities — they’re just high-quality and diligent people,” Webber says.
“They realised that we’re looking at a sea change in propulsion and power technology and that they could either be price-takers or take an early, active role in leading their industry.”
He describes Ardmore’s approach as thoughtful, committed and organised from the start. “Moving into early-stage renewables was a bold step, particularly for a conservative public company like Ardmore.”
Webber expects there will be more business to come from shipowners looking for a way to engage in renewables technology in a more proactive form.
“I know that there are other owners, private equity shops and family offices in and around the shipping space that are actively looking to gain exposure, and we’re still in the early stages for the evolution of power in the marine space,” he says.
“The marine space is so big, and there are so many different sub-sectors with different power requirements, there’s no single technology that will win. You’ll see a basket of energy sources and technologies that emerge to displace incumbent fuels.”
Armistead also worked with Ireland-based Fusion Fuel, a green-hydrogen company, on its 2020 initial public offering on New York’s Nasdaq exchange in a business combination with a blank-cheque special purpose acquisition company.
In the meantime, Webber Research & Advisory remains committed to its trademark corporate governance scorecard.
It morphed last year to consider for the first time whether owners are publicly reporting their carbon emissions.
Webber hints that the report — which has evaluated more than 50 shipowners — could be expanded to include renewable-energy companies in the near future.