Emerging from the global economic recession, investments in renewable energy technologies continued their steady rise in 2011, with total new investments in renewable power and fuels (excluding large hydropower and solar hot water) reaching $257 billion, up from $220 billion in 2010, according to Worldwatch Institute’s Climate and Energy program and the Vital Signs Online service.
In a year marked by falling costs for renewable energy technologies, net investment in renewable power capacity was $40 billion greater than investment in fossil fuel capacity, according to the institute’s new research findings.
Total renewable energy investments in industrial countries in 2011 accounted for 65 percent of global investment, increasing 21 percent to $168 billion overall. In contrast, the 35 percent of global new investment that went to developing countries increased 10 percent, to $89 billion.
Investment in India grew 62 percent—the highest growth rate for any single country over 2010 totals, but China attracted $52.2 billion in new investments in 2011, the largest sum of dollars of any country.
In 2011, "financial new investment" in renewable energy installations (a category that excludes small-scale projects and R&D) in industrial countries outpaced investments in the developing world, but in 2010 financial new investments in developing countries had been greater than those in industrial countries for the first time.
A major development in 2011 was the dominance of solar power in technology-specific investment with $147.4 billion invested in solar compared with $83.8 billion for wind projects and $10.6 billion for biomass and waste-to-energy technology. According to Worldwaatch, solar investment was driven by a 50 percent reduction in price during 2011.
With the three types of energy investment ahead of it in 2011, biofuels, which as recently as 2006 held the second overall ranking in renewable energy technologies, attracted the fourth highest total investment in 2011 at $6.8 billion, followed by $5.8 billion for small hydro and $2.9 billion for geothermal installations. Marine energy technologies received only $200 million, as it has not yet been commercially deployed.
The United States scored an impressive 57 percent growth in renewable investment over 2010 levels. Overall, the United States ranks second in total national renewable energy investment at $50.8 billion, followed by Germany at $31 billion.
Investments in renewable energy already constitute the major portion of "climate finance" funds designed to help developing countries meet development challenges looking to the next 25 years. "Renewable energy technologies can enhance access to reliable, affordable, and clean modern energy services," said Evan Musolino, climate and energy research associate and report co-author. "They are particularly well suited for remote rural populations, and in many instances they can provide the lowest-cost option for energy access. For these potentials to be met, new investment in the sector is essential."
Initial trends from the first two quarters of 2012 indicate that investment in the renewable energy sector has fallen behind the pace set in the 2011 year, noted Worldwatch.
As an activist organization, Worldwatch in this report tied the need for cleaner energy to the concept of protecting the world from atmospheric pollution that the institute contends will contribute to global warming.