Two reports released June 11 found that global investment in renewable energy shot up to a record $257 billion in 2011, with more than half of that going to solar.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012 report, based on data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) concurrently published their Renewables 2012 Global Status Report.
The reports found that investment in solar rose by 52 percent from 2010, up to $147 billion. This growth is credited to strong demand for PV installations in Germany, Italy, China and Britain as well as large concentrating solar thermal installations in Spain and the U.S.
“Despite the continuing economic crisis in some key traditional markets, and continuing political uncertainties, more renewable energy was installed last year than ever before,” said Dr. Mohamed El-Ashry, Chairman of REN21.
“Policy development and implementation were stimulated by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan, along with improvements in renewable energy costs and technologies.”
“As a result, renewable energy is spreading to more countries and regions of the globe. Globally there are more than 5 million jobs in renewable energy industries, and the potential for job creation continues to be a main driver for renewable energy policies,” he continued.
Further, the UNEP report found that residential PV is becoming increasingly cost competitive worldwide. The levelized cost of energy was below retail electricity prices in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and Brazil. By 2015, the same should be the case in Turkey, France, Japan and parts of the U.S.
The reports did note the intensifying competition in the solar industry that led multiple companies to shut down or scale down production. This impact was amplified by the scaling down of government incentives in the U.S. and Europe. However, the authors consider this consolidation to be a sign that the industry is maturing.
“Right now we are seeing a lot of pain on the supply-side as prices are being compressed, but it is important to remember than installers, generators and consumers are benefiting. It is all part of the maturing of the sector,” said Michael Liebreich, Chief Executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“In 1903, the United States had over 500 car companies, most of which quickly fell by the wayside even as the automobile sector grew into an industrial juggernaut. A century ago, writing off the auto industry based on the failures of weaker firms would have been foolish. Today, the renewable energy sector is experiencing similar growing pains as the sector consolidates.”
On the whole, investment in renewables grew 17 percent from 2010, down from the 37 percent growth the year before. And according to the REN21 report, renewables now supply 16.7 percent of the world’s energy.
Other key findings include:
renewable projects made up 44 percent of all new generating capacity added worldwide in 2011.
China invested most in renewables, with a total of $52 billion.
The United States invested $51 billion, up 57 percent from 2010, thanks to a rush to take advantage of expiring incentive programs.
India saw the largest growth in investment, up 62 percent to $12 billion.
solar thermal water heaters are used by over 200 million households and other buildings globally.