China takes lead in renewable energy investment

Posted by Emma Woollacott

China's now the world's biggest investor in green energy, according to the latest annual report on renewable energy investment trends from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Last year, a record $211 billion was invested in renewables, says the report, about  a third more than the $160 billion invested in 2009, and over five times as much as in 2004.

$72 billion was invested in developing countries, compared with just $70 billion in developed economies. In 2004, by contrast, new investment in developing countries was a quarter that in developed ones.

China's new investment in renewables rose 28 percent to $48.9 billion, putting it top of the world league. But South and Central America rose 39 percent to $13.1 billion, while the Middle East and Africa more than doubled their new investment to $5 billion.

Government research and development climbed over 120 per cent to well over $5 billion, as more of the 'green stimulus' funds promised after the financial crisis arrived in the sector. It's a good sign, says UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

"The combination of government target-setting, policy support and stimulus funds is underpinning the renewable industry's rise and bringing the much needed transformation of our global energy system within reach," he says.

"The UN climate convention meeting in Durban later in the year, followed by the Rio+20 summit in Brazil in 2012, offer key opportunities to accelerate and scale-up this positive transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication."

In 2010, wind continued to get the most new investment in large scale renewables, with $94.7 billion - up 30 percent from 2009.

But when investments in small scale projects are added in, solar is catching up, with $86 billion in 2010, up 52 percent on the previous year.

With $11 billion invested, biomass and waste-to-energy come in third; biofuels, which boomed at $20.4 billion in 2006, fell dramatically to $5.5 billion last year.

The biggest jump was seen in small-scale projects, which were up 91 percent at $60 billion.