China topped USA in renewable energy investment in 2011
By Frank Jordans
GENEVA ï¿½ Global investment in renewable energy reached a record $257
billion last year, with solar attracting more than half the total,
according to a U.N. report released Monday.
By Elizabeth Dalziel, AP
Investment in solar energy surged to $147 billion in 2011, a year-on-
year increase of 52% thanks to strong demand for rooftop photovoltaic
installations in Germany, Italy, China and Britain.
China was responsible for almost a fifth of the total investment
volume, spending $52 billion on renewable energy last year. The United
States was close behind with investments of $51 billion, as developers
sought to benefit from government incentive programs before they
expired. Germany, Italy and India rounded out the top five.
Large-scale solar thermal installations in Spain and the United States
also contributed to growth during a fiercely competitive year for the
solar industry. Several large American and German manufacturers fell
victim to price pressure from Chinese rivals that helped to halve the
cost of photovoltaic modules in 2011.
The report's authors said the demise of companies such as Solyndra,
Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt, Solar Millenium and Solon was a sign
that the solar industry is maturing.
"In 1903, the United States had over 500 car companies, most of which
quickly fell by the wayside even as the automobile sector grew into an
industrial juggernaut," the report said. "Today, the renewable energy
sector is experiencing similar growing pains as the sector
Wind power investment slipped 12% to $84 billion due to uncertainty
about energy policy in Europe and fewer new installations in China,
according to the report.
Overall investment in renewable energy grew 17%, a slowdown from the
37% increase in 2010. Still, the head of the U.N. Environment Program
claimed the latest figures are an indication that renewable energy is
drawing level with fossil fuels in some markets.
"These trends are real, they are substantive and they are
transformative," Achim Steiner told reporters in a conference call.
The U.N. is hoping that countries will use an environmental summit in
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next week to commit to further investments in
renewable energy, which covered just 16.7% of global energy
consumption in 2010. Of this share, modern technologies such as solar
and wind accounted for just 8.2%, less than the 8.5% contributed by
By comparison, more than 80% of electricity consumed worldwide still
comes from fossil fuels that are blamed for a rise in carbon in the
The U.N. report claims that solar panels installed in Germany, Italy,
Spain, Denmark and Australia can now compete with the retail cost of
electricity in those countries, even as government subsidies are
It noted that developing countries are also exploring the use of
renewable energy other than hydropower, which has long been a popular
source in poor countries.
Nations in East Africa are seeking to take advantage of abundant
geothermal capacity in the Rift Valley. Kenya aims to meet half of its
electricity needs with geothermal power by 2018. Djibouti, Eritrea,
Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are also exploring geothermal use.
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