Clean energy overtakes fossil fuel investment

Green energy overtook fossil fuels in attracting investment for power generation for the first time last year, according to figures released by the United Nations.

Wind, solar and other clean technologies attracted $140bn compared with $110bn for gas and coal for electrical power generation, with more than a third of the green cash destined for Britain and the rest of Europe.

The biggest growth for renewable investment came from China, India and other developing countries, which are fast catching up on the West in switching out of fossil fuels to improve energy security and tackle climate change.

“There have been many milestones reached in recent years, but this report suggests renewable energy has now reached a tipping point where it is as important — if not more important — in the global energy mix than fossil fuels,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN’s Environment Programme.

The UN still believes $750bn needs to be spent worldwide between 2009 and 2011 and the current year has started ominously with a 53 per cent slump in first quarter renewables investment to $13.3bn.

Counting energy efficiency and other measures, more than $155bn of new money was invested in clean energy companies and projects, even though capital raised on public stock markets fell 51 per cent to $11.4bn and green firms saw share prices slump more than 60 per cent over 2008, according to the report, Global Trends in Sustainable Energy, drawn up for the UN by the New Energy Finance (NEF) consultancy in London.

Wind is on top

Wind, where the US is now global leader, attracted the highest new worldwide investment, $51.8bn, followed by solar at $33.5bn. The former represented annual growth of only one per cent, while the latter was up by nearly 50 per cent year-on-year.

Biofuels were the next most popular investment, winning $16.9bn, but down nine per cent on 2007, as the sector was hit by overcapacity issues in the US and political opposition, with ethanol being blamed for rising food prices.

While overall spending in the West dipped nearly two per cent, there was a 27 per cent rise to $36.6bn in developing countries led by China, which pumped in $15.6bn, mostly in wind and biomass plants.

China more than doubled its installed wind turbine capacity to 11GW of capacity, while Indian wind investment was up 17 per cent to $2.6bn, as its overall clean tech spending rose to $4.1bn in 2008, 12 per cent up on 2007 levels.

Michael Liebreich, chief executive of NEF, said the second quarter had revealed ‘green shoots’ of recovery, which indicated this year could end up with investment at the upper end of a $95bn to $115bn range, but still a quarter down on 2008 at the least.

The New Energy Index of clean tech stocks, which had slumped from a 450 high to 134 by March, had since bounced back to 230, while more project financing had been raised in the last six weeks than in the 13 before that, he said.

But Steiner and Liebreich are still anxious that politicians do more to stimulate growth.

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