Renewable energy investment heats up worldwide

Workers install solar panels on a rooftop on Feb. 20 at a home in Palmetto Bay, Florida.
(Kerry Sheridan / AFP/Getty Images)

From China to Mexico, renewable energy investments are hot.

Global investment in renewable power and fuels reached $270.2 billion last year, nearly 17% higher than in 2013, according to a new study on renewable energy investment from the United Nations Environment Programme.

This figure marks the first increase in three years. Together, wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power are estimated to have generated 9.1% of the world’s electricity in 2014, compared to 8.5% in 2013.

China led the pack as the location of the biggest renewable energy investments last year, with $83.3 billion, followed by the U.S. at $38.3 billion and then Japan with $35.7 billion.


While solar installation boomed in China and Japan, and offshore wind projects in Europe garnered $18.6 billion, some of the most notable renewable investment increases came from developing countries.

The total investment in these markets was $131.3 billion in 2014, up 36% from the previous year. Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa and Turkey were in the “billion-dollar-plus club” in renewables investments, according to the study. Countries like Jordan, Uruguay, Panama, the Philippines and Myanmar were in the $500-million to $1-billion range.

Solar and wind technology are king among renewable energy sources, with solar investment up 29% to $149.6 billion and wind advancing 11% to a record $99.5 billion.

In contrast, biofuels slipped 8% to $5.1 billion, marking a 10-year low, and despite geothermal managing a 23% increase, the total is only $2.7 billion.

The study was a joint project with the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Looking ahead, the study said the oil price collapse in the second half of 2014 initially seemed to be the greatest challenge to the renewable energy industry.


But though the oil price was “likely to dampen” investor confidence in some areas, like solar in oil-exporting countries, “oil and renewables do not compete for power investment dollars,” the study said.

“Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs” per megawatt-hour, the study said.

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