Impressive growth in renewable energy capacity continues - Datamonitor -

Impressive growth in renewable energy capacity continues

Jul 30, 2010 - Datamonitor -

New UN figures show that, despite the global recession and lackluster climate change talks, 2009 saw more renewable power generation capacity installed than traditional fossil fuel capacity. Having already negotiated such a difficult period, fears that the clean energy investment bubble is about to burst are unfounded.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has revealed that, globally, 80GW of renewable power capacity were installed in 2009, outstripping newly installed fossil-fuel power generation capacity for the second consecutive year. Excluding hydroelectric, this represents 50GW of renewable energy generation capacity, a sharp increase from the 40GW added in 2008. Currently providing about a quarter of global generating capacity and delivering 18% of the world's electricity supply, clean energy has shown great resilience in the face of the global economic downturn, which restricted investment levels in the majority of markets.

Renewables accounted for approximately 50% of newly installed capacity in the US in 2009 and 60% in Europe. China overtook the US as the country with the greatest level of investment in clean energy, with nearly half of the world's extra renewable power capacity installed there last year. Along with the fact that countries in the developing world now account for more than half of global renewable capacity, this shows that these dynamic economies are playing a critical role in the sector's growth and are a good indication of changing investment patterns.

One factor behind the growth in renewable energy capacity is the tougher policy and standards initiatives that have been applied around the world to encourage growth in the sector. In the past few years, many governments have enacted policies that call for electricity from renewables to account for 15-25% of the energy mix by 2020, sending a clear signal to investors. The UNEP report points out that the number of countries with such policies has doubled from 55 in 2005 to more than 100 today, with over half of these countries located in the developing world.

What can be drawn from the report is that clean energy investment is not the financial bubble that skeptics had predicted; rather, it is a long-term investment trend that can provide investors with significant financial returns. Against a backdrop of global recession, disappointing multinational climate change talks and range-bound oil prices that show few signs of moving above $80 a barrel, the clean energy sector has shown great resilience, pointing to promising progress in the future.

However, the market for renewable energy did not come through the recession completely unscathed. Although in 2009 investment in wind, solar and other forms of renewable power totaled an impressive $162 billion (nearly four times the figure invested in 2004), this actually represents a fall from the record $173 billion invested in the sector in 2008. European investment levels were particularly hard hit; down from $48.4 billion in 2008 to $43.7 billion in 2009.

The UNEP report predicts that renewables will outpace conventional energy sources across the globe in the next few years as economies pull out of recession and government spending increases. Of the approximately $188 billion set aside by governments worldwide for green stimulus programs, only about 9% has been spent, and more is due to be set aside in the next two years. However, in 2010 several governments have announced austerity measures in an attempt to tackle ballooning state deficits, which could present a fresh challenge to the clean energy sector.