International renewable energy investments reached new record last year

The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), noted that last year’s investment total increased by 17% over the 2010 level despite the ongoing economic crisis.

The UNEP report added that the €205 billion spent on renewables around the world in 2011 represented a six-fold increase over 2004’s total and was 94% higher than the level in 2007, the year before the economic crisis began.

An accompanying report, REN21’s Renewables 2012 Global Status Report, noted that renewables continued to grow strongly last year in all end-use sectors – power, heating and cooling, and transport.

Published by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, the second report pointed out that renewable energies now supply 16.7% of global final energy consumption.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a press release that the strong and sustained growth of the renewable energy sector is a major factor in assisting many economies towards a transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy.

“This sends yet another strong signal of opportunity to world leaders and delegates meeting later this month at the Rio+20 Summit: namely that transforming sustainable development from patchy progress to a reality for seven billion people is achievable when existing technologies are combined with inspiring policies and decisive leadership,” Steiner said.

Mohamed El-Ashry, Chairman of Ren21, said more renewable energy was installed last year than ever before despite the continuing economic crisis in some key traditional markets, and continuing political uncertainties.

“Policy development and implementation were stimulated by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan, along with improvements in renewable energy costs and technologies,” El-Ahsry said in the press release. “Renewable energy is spreading to more countries and regions of the globe. Globally there are more than five million jobs in renewable energy industries, and the potential for job creation continues to be a main driver for renewable energy policies.”

The press release said that renewables accounted for almost half of the estimated 208 gigawatts (GW) of electric capacity added globally in the power sector during 2011.

“Wind energy and solar photovoltaic (PV) accounted for almost 40% and 30% of new renewable capacity, respectively, followed by hydropower (nearly 25%),” the press release said. “By the end of 2011, total renewable power capacity worldwide exceeded 1,360 GW, up 8% over 2010; renewables comprised more than 25% of total global power-generating capacity (estimated at 5,360 GW in 2011) and supplied an estimated 20.3% of global electricity.”

While noting that wind power has usually been the biggest renewable sector for investment is recent years, the press release said solar attracted nearly twice as much investment as wind in 2011. “Total investment in solar power jumped 52% to €118 billion,” according to the release said. Global wind power investments reached €67 billion last year.

In other highlights, the press release said the top seven countries for renewable electricity capacity, excluding large hydro, were China, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, India and Japan – accounting for about 70% of total non-hydro renewable capacity worldwide.

By region, the release added, the EU was home to nearly 37% of global non-hydro renewable capacity at the end of 2011, while China, India and Brazil accounted for roughly 25%.

Chris Rose,