nvestment in renewable energy last year amounted to a record $US211 billion ($198 billion), a rise of 32 per cent over 2009 and 540 per cent over 2004, a UN-backed report says.
China, investing $US48.9 billion ($45.9 billion), up 28 per cent, accounted for more than a fifth of the total, marking a year in which developing countries for the first time outstripped rich economies in renewables investment, it says.
A combination of factors are behind the global surge, the report says.
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They include stimulus money earmarked after the 2008 financial crash now finding its way into the market, sustained prices for fossil fuels and government perks such as feed-in tariffs for cleaner power.
The report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011, is a collaboration of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
If large hydro dams are excluded, renewable power comprised 8.1 per cent of total world power generation capacity in 2010, compared with 7.1 per cent in 2009, said the report.
Despite this small share of the mix, renewables accounted for 34 per cent of additional capacity brought online last year.
The report makes these points:
– The most mature technology, wind, continued to dominate the renewables sector, accounting for $US94.7 billion ($88.8 billion) of investment projects in 2010. Solar investment was $US26.1 billion ($24.5 billion) and biomass and waste-to-energy projects amounted to $US11 billion ($10.3 billion).
– But solar very nearly catches up with wind if small-scale installations, such as rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels, are included.
Small-scale solar sector doubled in value last year, helped by feed-in subsidies especially in Germany, France, Italy and the Czech Republic.
These subsidies are now being pared back by governments, but even so the market “is likely to stay strong” in 2011, says the report.
– The cost-effectiveness of wind and solar has risen enormously. The price of PV panels per megawatt (MW) has fallen by 60 per cent since mid-2008, and that of wind turbines by 18 per cent.
“The tipping point, where renewables becomes the predominant energy option, now appears closer than it did just a few years back.”
– Investment growth in the Middle East and Africa was up 104 per cent to $US5 billion ($4.7 billion), while India saw a rise of 25 per cent to $US3.8 billion ($3.56 billion).
In Asian countries outside India and China, there was a rise of 31 per cent in investment to $US4 billion ($3.75 billion). South and Central America, meanwhile, had an increase of 39 per cent, to $US13.1 billion ($12.3 billion).