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China, Europe head Clean Energy race - US, UK lag

By Martin Leggett - 29 Mar 2011 13:33:0 GMT
China, Europe head Clean Energy race - US, UK lag

As the world tries to stand up to challenges of climate change, the much-needed transformation from a fossil-fueled economy to a 'Clean Energy' one has sparked a race into the renewables sector. And according to a report from the charitable trusts organization, the PEW Environment Group, it is those countries with a strong clean energy vision that are moving forward fastest.

The report, released today, looked at the total global investment in clean energy in 2010. And the numbers are indeed looking impressive - with over $240 billion plowed into projects large and small, that are pulling the world towards a cleaner future. This is a 30% increase on 2009, and is a record for renewables investment. That racks up to a 7-fold growth since 2004 - welcome news, given that the rug was pulled so firmly on green investments during the global recession.

A breakdown of investment amongst the 20 most developed economies (the G-20) is even more revealing. China again leads the pack, with green energy finance of $54 billion, a 39% rise. But Germany is not far behind, with a doubling of investment to $41 billion. That pulls it ahead of the US, which has dropped to a third-ranked position, with $34 billion invested in clean energy. Given the much smaller size of the German and Chinese economies, compared to the US, those numbers imply a much faster rate of transformation.

The UK simply dropped out of the running, with its paltry 2010 investment of $3 billion - a 70% cut from the $11 billion seen in 2010. The PEW analysts put this down to renewed uncertainty over the UK's green energy policy. And that appears to be one of the strong themes from this year's report. Those countries who have taken bold and consistent steps to support clean energy investment have seen their efforts rewarded with record growth. Those that have been less supportive, or flipped policy around, have suffered.

These investments don't have to be through large projects either - much of the growth in Europe came from small-scale installations of solar, encouraged by imaginative green energy pricing policies for residential users, especially in Germany and Italy.

Wind remains the linchpin of the renewable energy revolution, with nearly half (193 GW) of all installed clean energy being wind-powered. That's followed by small-scale hydro-power at 80 GW, bio-mass and waste at 65 GW, and solar at 43 GW. However, for all the obvious sense of momentum towards clean energy, dirty energy still reins supreme. It has nearly 15 TW of capacity in 2008 - 97% of the total. The race may have started, but the pace needs to pick up fast.