China tops global clean energy table

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

image captionGlobally, solar energy enjoyed the "strongest growth" within the clean energy sector during 2010

China remains the world's leading investor in low-carbon energy technology, a global study has shown.

The table, published by the US Pew Environment Group, showed that the Chinese invested $54.4bn (£34.1bn) in 2010, up from $39.1bn in 2009.

While the US saw investment increase by 51% to $34bn, it still slipped from 2nd to 3rd in the ranking, behind Germany's $41.2bn.

However, the UK slipped outside the top 10 as investment fell by 70% in 2010.

Globally, the sector - which does not include nuclear power - attracted $243bn of investment, a 30% increase from 2009 and a whopping 630% rise since 2004.

The authors also said that 40 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 17GW of solar energy were installed during 2010, taking the global clean power capacity to 388GW.

The report Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race, using data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, examined the clean energy sector's investment and technological trends in the G20 leading economies.

"Looking at global trends, the solar sector experiences the strongest growth among the various technologies," observed Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

"Declining prices and generous government support in key countries helped the solar sector achieve 40% of total clean energy investment in 2010," he added.

The report outlined that as well as attracting the most investment, China was also the world's leading producer of wind turbines and solar energy units.

The authors also pointed out that the country in 2009 overtook the US as the nation with the most installed clean energy capacity.

In terms of year-on-year growth, Argentina topped the rankings as it saw investment grow by 568% in 2010 compared with 2009.

Regionally, Europe remained the largest recipient of investment, attracting $94.4bn of investment. Asia/Oceania was the second most attractive region for investors, securing $82.2bn.

Explaining the UK's slip in the rankings, Mr Liebreich suggested that it was a result of "policy uncertainty during a substantial part of the year".

In May, the UK general election resulted in a coalition government involving the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. However, the deal was only struck after five days of intensive negotiations.

"With a new government in the UK, investors appear to be waiting on the sidelines until there is more certainty in the market," suggested Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's Clean Energy Program.

"Our research consistently demonstrates that strong policies attracts investments," she added.

"Nations like China, Germany and India, which all saw increases, were attractive to financiers because they have national policies that create long-term certainty for investors."

Looking ahead to this year, Mr Liebreich said that he expected to see a slowing in the growth rate of investment in clean energy, yet he did expect to see a marked increased in generation capacity.

"Another thing worth watching is new technologies coming through," he told reporters.

"There was a surge in venture and private equity investment during 2005-08; and those companies have been under the radar because of the (economic) crisis. But you are now starting to see companies that have survived the difficult years... establish some commercial scale in their activities."

He concluded by saying that there had been a number of "black swans rocking the energy sector", such as the unrest in Middle Eastern nations and the aftermath of the Magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan.

"These things do change the landscape for clean energy," Mr Leibreich said.

"It is hard to recall the last time that clean energy caused a catastrophe of any magnitude. As thoughts about risk pervades policymakers' and investors' thinking, you are likely to see another strand of support for the clean energy industry."

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