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The Bulletin

Clean energy in 2012: China surged, U.S. sagged

Posting in Energy

Clean energy investment in much of the Western world took a dive in 2012, thanks to regulatory uncertainty and steep curbs in subsidies.

That wasn't the case in China, which saw investment in clean energy hit a record $67.7 billion last year, up 20 percent from 2011, largely due to a surge in its solar sector, according to a year-end report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Overall global clean energy investment fell 11 percent in 2012 to $268.7 billion from a record reached the previous year.

Still, it's striking the decline wasn't bigger, considering policy uncertainty in countries, the ongoing European fiscal crisis, and the continued drop in technology costs, said BNEF CEO Michael Liebreich in a release accompanying the report.

Despite the less-than-stellar results, 2012 investment was still the second-highest ever, and five times that of 2004, according to BNEF.

A look back

The year kicked off with a warning from BNEF (as well as other analyst and research firms) that investment would fall below 2011 levels. And it did. Global investment in clean energy dropped sharply to $27 billion in the first quarter of 2012, the weakest posting since the depths of the financial crisis in early 2009.

The rest of the year wasn't much better. Global investment in clean energy totaled $56.6 billion in the third quarter, some 20 percent lower than the same period last year, due partly to a lull in wind farm financing and weaker performance from the United States and India.

A change in investment

Clean energy investments broadened rapidly in 2012 from established markets, such as Europe and the United States, to new ones in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia-Oceanic, said BNEF.

South Africa was a particularly strong performer, which saw investment leap to $5.5 billion from just a few tens of millions in 2011. BNEF credited the country's tender process for wind and solar to a string of large project financings.

Other highlights

  • Asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects, such as wind farms and solar parks totaled  $148.6 billion, representing the largest chunk of investment in 2012;
  • Venture capital and private equity investment in specialist clean energy companies fell 34 percent to $5.8 billion, its lowest figure since 2006;
  • Public market investment in quoted companies fell 54 percent to $5.1 billion, the lowest figured since 2004 and down 80 percent from a peak of $25.6 billion in 2007;
  • Solar was the dominant sector, in terms of overall investment, raking in $142.5 billion in 2012, a 9 percent decline from the previous year;
  • Wind investment was $78.3 billion in 2012, down 13 percent from the previous year;
  • Investment in energy-smart technologies, such as smart grid, energy efficiency and electric vehicles fell 7 percent to 18.8 billion.

Photo: Abengoa Solar

— By on January 14, 2013, 2:43 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure