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China leads the world in renewables, UN says

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Conundrum continues, as the world's biggest polluter once again tops a list of the planet's greenest countries, with $49.8 billion in 2010 clean energy investments - mostly wind farms.

China, the world’s biggest polluter, has once again topped a list of the world’s leading renewable energy countries.

A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) notes that in 2010, China led all nations investing in renewable energy, with $49.8 billion in funds.

Most of China’s investments - $41.4 billion - went into wind farms, and the balance was split evenly between solar and biomass/waste-to-energy (wte), the report notes.

The $49.8 billion was nearly a quarter of the $211 billion invested worldwide, and led a 32% rise in global investing from the previous year according to the report, prepared for the UN by London-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Germany ranked second, with $41 billion in investments, doubling its expenditures over the previous year. Most of the $41 billion went into rooftop solar, which falls into the UNEP’s “small-scale distributed capacity” category. The report notes that Germany’s feed-in tariff policies helped encourage investment in that area, as did declining solar prices.

In sharp contrast, less than $1 billion of China’s $49.8 went into “small scale” projects, as investors ploughed $48.9 billion into utility scale, “financial new investment in renewables.”

The report claims that Germany’s investments in small-scale projects helped make up for a 22% decline in Europe’s utility-scale investments, to $35.2 billion.

The U.S. ranked third among countries, with $29.6 billion. Of that, $24.9 billion fit the utility scale category. Two thirds of that, $16.1 billion, went into wind. Solar received $5.5 billion, and biofuels, biomass/wte and geothermal split the remainder.

The UN also noted that “For the first time, developing economies overtook developed ones” in new investments in utility-scale renewable energy projects.  South and Central America rose 39% to $13.1 billion; Middle East and Africa more than doubled to $5 billion; India grew 25% to US$3.8 billion, and “Asian developing countries excluding China and India” climbed up 31% to $4 billion.

On the down side, corporate research, development and deployment dropped 12% to $3.3 billion “as companies retrenched in the face of economic hard times,” the report notes. Private equity funds also set aside 1% less for renewable energy expansion capital, the report states.

Copies of the UN’s report, which provides a rich breakdown of energy and investment types, are available here.

Photo: pollutionpictures.blogspot.com

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure