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Looking for alternative energy stocks with undiscovered potential?

Who isn’t?

Here are three possibilities (with three more to come next week). You can decide for yourself whether they are worth further investigation.

First up: PFB Corporation, which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol PFB. Calgary-based PFB is an energy efficiency play. The company makes insulating building products that it sells under branded names in commercial and residential markets in North America and Japan.

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The company most recently reported third quarter net income of $1.6 million, or 24 cents, vs. $1.1 million, or 16 cents, and nine months net of $2.5 million, or 38 cents, compared $1.1 million, or 17 cents. Earnings rose significantly despite lower sales, a reflection of the difficult economy faced by all construction-related businesses.

What would seem to make PFB a hidden gem is management’s demonstrated ability to control costs (and maintain the regular 6-cent-a-share dividend payout) in tough economic times. With energy efficiency – especially in buildings – increasingly being recognized as by far the most cost-effective way to start greening the economy, PFB has hidden potential that might really blossom as the overall economy improves.

Next up: Vodafone Group Plc (NASDAQ:VOD), whose ADRs trade on NASDAQ under the symbol VOD, and Telefonica S.A. (NYSE:TEF), whose ADRs trade on the Big Board under the symbol TEF.

Although they’re already telecom giants, what gives Vodafone and Telefonica hidden potential is the role they appear destined to play in Europe’s smart grid build-out.

By 2020 the British government plans to have a smart meter in every home under a program whose cost is expected to top $11.5 billion. (The rest of Europe may not be far behind.) This will require enormous amounts of data to be wirelessly transmitted from those smart meters back to Britain’s energy companies. Vodafone and Telefonica (through its O2 unit) reportedly are negotiating to be the carriers of all that data, quite possibly through a new joint-venture firm.

While the payoff for investors won’t be immediate, Vodafone and Telefonica could become huge long-term beneficiaries of the smart grid, which a number of communications experts now think will become as big as or bigger than the Internet.

Disclosure: No Positions