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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Renewable energy investments are shifting to developing nations, the U.S. lags, and it's all not nearly enough

The world invested almost a quarter trillion dollars ($244 billion) in renewable energy in 2012, and investments are shifting to developing nations, according to two new studies.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 2st Century (REN21) has produced its Renewables Global Status Report (GSR), finding that:    
                
  • Renewable energy investment has exceeded $200 billion for the third straight year.
  • Total global investment in renewables fell to $244 billion in 2012 from $279 billion in 2011, due in part to a drop in the cost of solar and wind technologies.
  • The industrialized world invested $132 billion on renewable energy in 2012, compared to developing nations’ $112 billion - the latter group led by China’s $67 billion of investment in wind, solar and other renewable projects.
  • The U.S., which led the world in renewables investment in 2011, fell behind China, with investment dipping 34 percent to $36 billion.
  • Two-thirds of the 138 nations that now have clean-energy targets are in the developing world.
  • The cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power is improving all the time, and both hit new annual installation records.

The key findings of the REN21 report provides an excellent, dense summary.

The second report - Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2013, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), finds that:

  • Renewables are "progressively supplementing" established electricity systems, demonstrating that the implementation of suitable policies can enable the successful integration of higher shares of renewables.
  • Global investments in renewable energy in 2012 failed to top the year before - only the second time this has happened since 2006.  They fell  12% - as REN21 also found - “mainly due to dramatically lower solar prices and weakened US and EU markets.”
  • China’s dominance in 2012 renewable energy investment - rising 22% to $67 billion – was mainly due to a jump in solar investment.

This good news needs to be put in some dampened perspective.  Study participant New Energy Finance Chief Executive Officer Michael Liebreich said of the reports: “What remains daunting is that the world has hardly scratched the surface. CO2 emissions are still on a firm upward.” Indeed, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said earlier this year that the global energy supply is not getting cleaner, despite efforts to advance clean energy.  

We are grossly under-investing in renewable energy at our peril globally. That is especially true here in the U.S., where the shale gas revolution affords us the opportunity to drive renewables investment and, if we're really smart, convert gas to a near-zero carbon source of energy at the same time.


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