Investments in renewable energy sources surge worldwide

| by Teena Hammond
Investments in renewable energy sources surge worldwide

Wind farms in China and small-scale solar panels on rooftops in Europe were largely responsible for last year's 32 percent rise in green energy investments worldwide according to Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011 report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the report, last year, investors pumped a record $211 billion in U.S. dollars into renewables — about one-third more than the $160 billion invested in 2009, and a 540 percent rise since 2004.

For the first time, developing economies overtook developed ones in terms of "financial new investment" — spending on utility-scale renewable energy projects and provision of equity capital for renewable energy companies. For these investments, $72 billion was invested in developing countries vs. $70 billion in developed economies, which contrasts with 2004, when financial new investments in developing countries were about one quarter of those in developed countries.

China, with $48.9 billion in financial new investment in renewables (up 28 percent), was the world leader in 2010. However, other parts of the emerging world also showed strong growth:

South and Central America: up 39 percent to $13.1 billion;

Middle East and Africa: up 104 percent to $5 billion;

India: up 25 percent to $3.8 billion, and

Asian developing countries excluding China and India: up 31 percent to $4 billion.

Another positive development, highlighted in the report with implications for long-term clean energy developments, was government research and development. That category of investment climbed over 120 percent to more than $5 billion.

For solar power, the price of PV modules per megawatt has fallen 60 percent since mid-2008, making solar power far more competitive. The small-scale solar market is likely to stay strong in 2011, according to the report.

Further drops in costs for solar, wind and other technologies lie ahead, the report says, posing a growing threat to the dominance of fossil-fuel generation sources in the next few years.

Throughout the last decade, wind was the most mature renewable energy technology and enjoyed an apparently unassailable lead over its rival power sources.

Wind turbine prices have fallen 18 percent per megawatt in the last two years, reflecting, as with solar, fierce competition in the supply chain.

In 2010, wind continued to dominate in terms of financial new investment in large scale renewables, with $94.7 billion (up 30 percent from 2009). However, when investments in small scale projects are added in solar is catching up, with $86 billion in 2010, up 52 percent on the previous year. With $11 billion invested, biomass and waste-to-energy come in third in front of biofuels, which boomed at $20.4 billion in 2006, but fell off dramatically to $5.5 billion last year.

Nick Nuttall, UNEP spokesperson, outlines the highlights of the report in this video .

For more information, see our Solar Power for Homes Research Center.

Topics: Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Solar Power, Wind Power

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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