Renewable energy investment up 5% in 2011

New investment in clean energy increased 5% to $260 billion in 2011, with solar energy technology investments surging and the US roaring ahead of China, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Last year also saw the one trillionth dollar invested in clean energy globally since the company started compiling data in 2004. However, in a tough economic environment, the rate of growth of the sector – which was up 30% between 2009 and 2010 – fell sharply.

Bright spots included investment in solar power companies and projects, which reached $136.6 billion, a 36% rise from last year. Wind power received only about half of that sum, with $74.9 billion invested in the technology. While solar power investment outpaced wind energy in 2004 and 2010, this is the first time Bloomberg has found such a big gap.

“The performance of solar energy is even more remarkable when you consider that the price of photovoltaic modules fell by close to 50% during 2011, and now stands 75% lower than three years ago,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“The cost of photovoltaic technology has fallen, but the volume of PV sold has increased by a much greater factor as it approached competitiveness with other sources of power,” he added.

China overtook the US in terms of total investment into the clean energy sector in 2009, but the US is again ahead, as investment went up a third since 2010, reaching $55.9 billion, whereas China saw investment rise only 1%, to $47.4 billion.

“The news that the US jumped back into the lead in clean energy investment last year will reassure those who worried that it was falling behind other countries,” said Liebreich.

But he added that “before anyone in Washington celebrates too much” they should consider that the figure was achieved largely because of support from the federal loan guarantee programme and a Treasuary grant programme, which have now expired.

In Europe, clean energy investments rose 3% last year, to $100.2 billion, and solar energy again got the largest chunk of investment.

India’s clean energy investments grew more than 50%, jumping to $10.3 billion.

Asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects was the largest single type of investment. This was up from a revised $138.3 billion in 2010, to $145.6 billion last year.

Liebreich said: “Overall, 2011 was a far better year for the clean energy industry than the press coverage would lead one to believe.”

“2012 looks like being another challenging year, with the European financial crisis continuing to fester, and the supply chain working its way out of some fearsome over-capacity. But rumours of the death of clean energy have been greatly exaggerated.”

Elza Holmstedt Pell,