Investment in renewable energy at record levels

31st March 2015

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Malcolm Bryson

Worldwide investment in renewables surged 17% to $270 billion in 2014, bringing the total invested in renewable energy to $2 trillion over the past 10 years, according to UNEP.

The UN environment programme’s latest annual report, Global trends in renewable energy investment, says record investments in offshore wind projects across Europe, combined with major expansion of solar installations in China and Japan contributed most to the increased capacity in 2014 and helped reverse a two-year decline in investment.

The 103GW of renewables generating capacity added globally last year was significantly higher than the 86GW installed in 2013, and represents the “best year ever for newly installed capacity”, says UNEP. Total renewables capacity from wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1% of global electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5% in 2013 – representing a saving of 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions that would have been produced if the electricity had been generated by fossil fuels. The 50% collapse in oil prices in the second half of 2014 failed to make an impact on renewables investment, says UNEP.

"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 at 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 renewables market in 2014 was dominated by record investments in solar and wind, which accounted for 92% of overall investment in renewable power and fuels.

Around $18.6 billion was invested globally in offshore wind projects in 2014, a 148% increase on the previous year. Most of this investment – $16.2 billion or more than 87% – was in Europe, with seven $1 billion-plus projects reaching the "final investment decision" stage in 2014. The $3.8 billion 600MW Gemini installation off the cost of the Netherlands was the largest non-hydro renewable energy plant to get the go-ahead anywhere in the world. The UK offshore wind sector delivered 13.4TWh of electricity to the national grid in 2014, an 18% increase on 2013.

Global investment in biofuels fell 8% to $5.1 billion, while finance for biomass and waste-to-energy fell 10% to $8.4 billion and small hydro was down 17% to $4.5 billion. Only geothermal bucked the trend with a 27% increase to $2.7 billion.

According to UNEP, developing countries are leading the growth in renewables with investments rising 36% to $131.3 billion, compared to growth of just 3% in developed economies, although actual investment was still marginally higher in developed countries at $138.9 billion. Investments in Europe remained unchanged at $57.5 billion. The report says governments are struggling to produce policy measures that keep up with advances in renewables and that policy uncertainty is eroding investor confidence.

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