The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

David Sterman

NEW YORK ( StreetAuthority) -- For clean-energy investors, 2010 finished on a dismal note. A change of political control in Congress signaled diminished support in Washington for any kind of major financial incentives in alternative energy. In Europe, fiscal challenges led countries such as Italy and Germany to scale back their previous commitments to clean-energy subsidies.

But a trio of factors has started to boost the outlook for the clean energy sector:
  • First, oil prices have spiked and are now at a level that makes technologies such as wind and solar much more competitive without the aid of subsidies. If oil prices stay aloft for a sustained period, then a fresh wave of solar- and wind-power programs is likely to begin.
  • Second, the nuclear disaster in Japan has led many to question whether it would be wiser to focus on environmentally friendly technologies such as wind, solar and biofuels.
  • Third, the U.S. dollar continues to weaken, making U.S.-based clean-energy plays look far more appealing in the eyes of foreign companies.
  • These factors help explain why French energy giant Total ( TOT) has made a 60% investment in California-based SunPower ( SPWRA) for $1.37 billion. Total's offer for that stake was at a 44% premium to where shares had been trading. That got investors' attention.

    As a result of the acquisition, investors are now starting to sniff around other clean-energy plays in the United States, wondering which will be next. There are three U.S. clean-energy stocks -- two in solar and one in wind -- that could start to pop up on more radars. They're inexpensive, poised for strong growth and could be the target of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) hunters. Here they are.

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