As clean energy finance falls in Europe — most notably Germany and Italy — it is soaring in Asia, particularly in Japan and China, according to the 2013 “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race?” report by Pew Charitable Trusts. Renewable energy capacity in the Asia and Oceania regions grew by 64 percent last year, with 50 GW of new capacity added in one year.
Despite the global recession, the clean energy sector is a $250 billion industry, with over $100 billion in investment in Asia. China alone attracted $54 billion in investment in 2013 and was the global leader in wind energy investment with 38 percent of the global total. Several factors indicate that renewable energy has a bright future, particularly in Asia, and that China will remain a clean energy superpower.
The price of solar and wind energy technology has fallen significantly in recent decades and is increasingly competitive in the market. As a result, clean energy stocks soared in 2013, the report noted. Despite the European market contracting, renewable energy markets in Asia, South America and Africa are expanding. The solar energy sector emerged as an industry leader in 2013, outpacing new generation capacity in other technologies.
With the world’s largest clean energy capacity at 191 GW, China installed a record 12.1 GW of solar — setting records and emerging as a major global solar market. In addition, China installed 14 GW of wind energy capacity in 2013. As concerns about air pollution mount, China set ambitious 2014 goals, with 14 GW of new solar capacity and 18 GW of new wind capacity. A new 20-year policy, aimed to boost solar power, makes future solar growth attractive and will create a steady market, the report’s authors predict.
On the heels of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and reforms in the power sector, Japan was the fastest growing market for clean energy investment, with an 80 percent growth to $28.6 billion, according to the report. In an effort to diversify power generation, Japan nearly doubled its solar capacity in 2013 with 6.7 GW installed. The country is now No. 4 globally in solar energy capacity. With most of its renewable energy gains in solar, Japan currently has a mere 2.7 GW of installed wind capacity.
After a 9 percent drop from 2012, the United States attracted $36.7 billion in clean energy investment last year. The country was particularly strong in biofuels and energy efficient/low carbon technologies and dominated the venture capitalist/private equity-financing category. Wind energy installations, however, fell by 90 percent in 2013 — largely due to uncertain wind energy policy, but solar energy growth was strong.
Numerous factors, including reductions in feed-in tariffs, shifting energy policies and the uncertain future of renewable energy incentives, caused the German market to shrink by 55 percent last year to $10.1 billion. Solar energy capacity is now 35.5 GW and wind capacity is at 34 GW, thus Germany generates 20 percent of its power from renewable sources. Although China leads in new solar capacity, Germany remains the leader in existing solar capacity — with nearly double the capacity of China. If 2013 trends continue, Germany will not remain the leader in installed capacity for long.
This market is also in steep decline, with a 75 percent reduction in clean energy investment last year. This is the impact of austerity measures, which are cutting incentives for clean energy development. Regardless, Italy has 18.1 GW of installed solar capacity — just barely trailing China — taking third place in global solar energy capacity.
Some of the greatest indicators of future clean energy development are government policies and incentives. Lack of stable policy in the U.S. is hindering long-term wind energy growth. Conversely, the multi-year extension in 2008 of the U.S. solar energy tax credit through 2016 has created strong yet consistent demand. With a 20-year solar policy in place, the solar energy market outlook is very bright for China.
Image credit: Solar Service Inc.
Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.