What happened

Oil prices roared back on Thursday, recovering from Wednesday's historic plunge to millennium-low prices. That's good news for oil stocks, of course. But it turns out it's also pretty great news for companies offering alternatives to oil.

As of 10:50 a.m. EDT, shares of Bloom Energy (BE -0.55%) have climbed 4.7% while Plug Power (PLUG -0.77%) is up 6.5%. Solar installer Vivint Solar (VSLR) has risen 7.3%, FuelCell Energy (FCEL) is notching an 8.1% gain, and Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE -5.63%) is cleaning up -- selling for 13.2% more than yesterday's close.

Stock market arrow rising above a row of oil barrels

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Why are all of these renewable energy stocks rising? It's not because of anything specific to the stocks themselves, I fear. Bloom, Plug, FuelCell, Vivint, and Clean Energy haven't had anything of substance to report this morning. Nor have analysts upgraded any of them, or tweaked a price target.

Instead, what we're seeing is the logical effect of oil getting a bit more expensive, and pulling a U-turn on what was starting to look like a fast track to $0 a barrel. In mid-morning pricing, WTI crude prices are up 12.2% at $23.47 a barrel, and the international benchmark Brent crude is 4.6% higher at $27.91.  

As a result, alternatives to oil are a bit more attractive today, because they're able to compete against somewhat pricier crude.

Now what

Will this rally hold, or will it fall apart like all previous rallies over the past few weeks have?

That probably depends a lot on how bad the damage on the global economy from the coronavirus turns out to be. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 227,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed around the globe.  

In the U.S. alone, we now have 9,415 cases recorded. Many nations around the globe are right here with us in the four-digit range, and cases in Germany, Spain, Iran, and Italy (and of course China) number in the tens of thousands. If you ask me, so much health havoc is bound to drag down economic growth, potentially tipping not just the U.S., but the world into recession. If and when that happens, it won't be good news for oil prices, or for alternative energy stocks, either.

Before you get too excited by today's stock rally, be aware: There's still another shoe that could drop.