Renewables investment up in 2010—but mainly because of China

21 Jul 2011

Global investment in large-scale renewables jumped 32 percent in 2010, compared with 2009, a reason to be glad. But something that champions of green energy don’t point out is that, in the world outside of China, large-scale renewables investment actually fell.

My figures come from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, via the United Nations Environment Programme’s new report, “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment.”

China is deservedly proud of its meteoric rise in renewables investment, taking the top spot in 2010, above Germany and the U.S. However, if richer countries are going to come anywhere near replacing most fossil fuels with renewables, they are going to have to achieve consistent, high growth in renewables investments, as the International Energy Agency pointed out in April in their “Clean Energy Progress Report.”

Here’s another view on investment, which in this case includes small-scale projects—mainly residential solar.

(The UNEP report didn’t break down the numbers for small-scale renewables investment in the same way, so I had to group it differently—by developing vs developed countries. The large-scale projects are mainly wind, and small-scale investments are mainly residential solar.)

When including small-scale renewables, the picture looks more hopeful, since residential solar grew fast in 2010, with the capacity installed last year double of what it was in 2009. But overall investment in richer countries still grew only slowly, compared with what’s needed to achieve ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

If the recession of 2008-2009 was just a temporary slowdown and then growth were to get “back on track” again quickly, then I wouldn’t be too worried. But with the richer countries’ economies still very fragile, I think we could see weak growth in renewables as well for a while to come.

The big challenge, it seems to me, is how to make renewables grow quickly in a country even when the economy is ailing. That is, can we manage to continue with an unprecedented energy transition despite hard times?


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »