What happened 

Shares of clean energy stocks made a strong recovery Tuesday as the market and oil prices both moved higher. Ballard Power Systems Inc (BLDP -0.62%) jumped 17% by the close, FuelCell Energy Inc (FCEL) finished higher by 12%, and Clean Energy Fuels Corp (CLNE -5.63%) closed up 13% on the day.

So what

The two macro trends early in trading were the market overall rising as investors bought back into a market that's plunged over the last few weeks. The other big factor affecting clean energy was a big jump in oil prices Tuesday.

Hydrogen symbol made of leaves floating over field

Image source: Getty Images.

Oil is indirectly a competitor for Ballard, FuelCell Energy, and Clean Energy Fuels, so when oil prices were plunging that was bad news for their businesses. Now that oil is rising a bit, it's an incremental tailwind. 

Clean Energy Fuels is most likely to be affected because it's trying to get trucks and bus fleets to switch from diesel to natural gas fuels. The biggest pitch the company makes is that long-term there are cost savings from natural gas, which has remained cheap even when oil prices rose over the past decade. But if oil, and therefore diesel, prices go down, it won't make as much sense to make the switch to natural gas. 

Ballard is making hydrogen products that can be powered by oil, so cheap oil is a hindrance but still doesn't change the cleaner energy hydrogen can provide. And FuelCell Energy, while cleaner than oil power plants, is primarily selling to facilities as an auxiliary or backup power source, and it's often consuming natural gas that's common in the power plant business. 

Now what

The stock market moves this week shouldn't be taken too seriously by investors, especially in the clean energy space. Oil prices go up and down, and long-term the price of oil shouldn't matter if clean energy technologies are going to win. 

I would pay more attention to the long-term performance of these companies as indicators of where these renewable energy stocks are going. And that's where my bigger concern comes in. All three are losing money, and until those losses become profits they don't have sustainable businesses. That's where I would like to see progress in 2020.