The pace of solar project developments in China and Japan, and wind farms in Europe helped in leading a strong rebound in global investments in renewable energy in 2014, according to the UN.
Investment in clean energy increased 17% in 2014 to US$270 billion from a year earlier. It was the first annual increase in dollars invested in and committed to renewable, excluding large hydro-electric projects, in three years, a total just 3% below the all-time record of $279 billion set in 2011.
The falls in the investment figures for 2012 and 2013 were attributed in part to lower prices for renewable energy technologies due to economies of scale, the United Nations Environment Programme said in its Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments report.
The 103 gigawatts of generating capacity added globally made 2014 the best year ever for newly installed capacity. A continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014. The 103GW of capacity added by new renewable energy sources last year compares to 86GW in 2013, 89GW in 2012 and 81GW in 2011.
The 103GW of capacity added by renewables last year equals the energy generating capacity of all 158 nuclear power plant reactors in the USA. Wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1% of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5% in 2013. This meant that last year the world electricity system emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1% had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9% of world power.
“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.
“The growing penetration of renewable generation in the world’s developing economies is one of the important and encouraging aspects of the 2014 report.”
China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a recordUS $83.3 billion, up 39% from 2013. The US was second at US$38.3 billion, up 7% on the year followed by Japan, at $35.7 billion, 10% higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.
As in previous years, the market in 2014 was dominated by record investments in solar and wind, which accounted for 92% of overall investment in renewable power and fuels. Investment in solar jumped 25% to US$149.6 billion, the second highest figure ever, while wind investment increased 11% to a record US$99.5 billion. In 2014, some 49GW of wind capacity and 46GW of solar PV capacity were added worldwide, both records.
The dominant feature of the solar sector was unprecedented expansion in China and Asia. Between them, the two Asian giants invested US$74.9 billion in solar in 2014, around half the world’s total.