The numbers are in and 2010 proved a record year for green energy, investment with venture capitalists, corporations, and governments worldwide pouring $243 billion into wind farms, solar power, electric cars, and other technologies, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
That’s a 30 percent spike from 2009 and nearly five times the money invested in 2004, the research firm said.
“It flies in the face of skepticism about the clean energy sector among public market investors, who have been concerned about the sustainability of subsidy programs in Europe, the failure of the Obama administration to deliver a climate or an energy deal, and the crescendo of ill-informed doubts about climate change,” Michael Liebreich, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s chief executive, said in a statement.
But a closer look at the numbers offers a sobering lesson for the United States, which risks being left in the coal dust by China and other countries. China, for instance, put $51.1 billion into clean energy in 2010, a 30 percent increase from the previous year.
“The main drivers of the rapid growth in investment in 2010 were China, European offshore wind, European rooftop solar and research and development,” the report noted.
Chinese and European firms accounted for nearly 40 percent of the $96 billion invested in wind energy in 2010. Overall, investment in wind jumped 31 percent last year.
While wind investments tilted toward massive megawatt installations, there was also a surge is rooftop solar. In fact, investments in distributed generation — putting solar panels and other renewable energy sources in the places where the power is consumed — soared 91 percent in 2010 to $59.6 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Meanwhile, smart grid, energy storage, and electric car investments grew 27 percent in 2010, to $23.9 billion.
Biofuels, on the other hand, have been falling out of favor, with investment declining slightly last year to $7.9 billion from $8.1 billion in 2009. That’s a big plunge from the $20.9 billion invested in 2006 during the corn ethanol boom.
Despite the happy numbers, Liebreich cautioned that green energy remains dependent on government support.
“The figures do contain an important caveat,” he said. “More than in most years, growth has been in fairly direct response to government intervention, whether in the form of cheap debt in China, sweet off-take deals for European offshore wind, feed-in tariffs for solar or a regulatory push for smart grids. The industry needs to continue to drive down its costs and reduce its reliance on this sort of support.”