One Trillion Clean Tech Dollars in Seven Years

Strong growth in solar and wind invetment puts United States ahead of China once again

2 min read
One Trillion Clean Tech Dollars in Seven Years

Cumulative global investment in clean tech technologies in the seven years ending last year came to $1 trillion, reports Bloomberg Clean Energy Finance. Despite the weakness in 2011 of the advanced industrial economies, total clean tech spending grew an impressive 5 percent. In the last seven years, which have included a couple years of severe recession, clean tech investment has grown by an an astonishing average of 25 percent per year.

The United States accounted for almost a fifth of global clean tech investment in 2011, regaining a lead it had lost to China two years before. That tidbit prompted the Financial Times to lead its Friday paper with the Bloomberg report. But it is by no means the only significant detail of the report and arguably not the most important by a long shot.

Perhaps the most significant finding was that investment in solar far surpassed wind last year. With solar investment up 36 percent last year and wind investment down 17 percent, spending on photovoltaic and solar thermal installations was almost twice as great as turbine outlays. Solar investment in 2011 came to $136.6 billion--more than half the global clean tech total of $260 billion--while wind investment was $74.9 billion.

"The largest single type of investment was the asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects," said the Bloomberg report. "This increased from a revised $138.3bn in 2010, to $145.6bn in 2011. Among the big projects financed in the last quarter of the year were the 288 MW Amrumbank West offshore wind farm off Germany for $1.3bn, the 272 MW Seigneurie de Beaupre wind farm phases one and two in Canada for $756m, and the 92.5 MW Hanas Ningxia Yanchi Gaoshawo solar thermal plant in China, for $354m."

The second largest category of clean tech investment was distributed energy, notably rooftop PV, which came to $73.8 billion. A surprisingly small category, on the other hand, was the highly touted smart grid, power storage, efficiency, and smart transport. Here investment spending came to just $19.2 billion, less than 7.5 percent of the world total. Another negative finding: Public and private R&D spending on clean tech dropped to $25.9 billion in 2011 from $31.5 billion the year before.

Cautioning green energy  boosters and potential investors, Bloomberg Clean Energy Finance pointed out that the high U.S. clean-tech totals have been heavily driven by Federal incentives for solar and wind that have just expired, and that another U.S. tax credit for wind could be terminated at the end of this year.

Another cautionary note, this one unmentioned by Bloomberg: The drop in wind investment suggests that costs are plateauing as the most attractive installation sites are saturated; though solar right now is soaring, strongly driven by ubiquitous subsidies and low Chinese production costs, we could soon see site saturation and plateauing costs here as well.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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