Worldwide Investment in Renewable Energy Hit $257 Billion in 2011, a Record High

Mark Florence via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Investment in renewable energy continued to boom last year, even as the global recession stubbornly soldiered on and hordes of naysayers harped on about silly solar panels and windmills. For the first time ever, the renewable sector attracted over a quarter trillion dollars—$257 billion flowed into various projects around the world.

Here's the Guardian:

Last year, investment in renewable energy reached $257bn (£165bn), a rise of 17% on the previous year. The record investment was a six-fold increase on the 2004 figure and nearly double the total in 2007, the year before the world financial crisis, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century. (REN21)
Also included in the report was the fact that solar overtook wind as the hot investment prospect: Investment spiked 52% last year, largely thanks to falling panel costs and the continued success of policies that incentivize small scale projects like rooftop and community solar.

Of course, the report also notes that the rate of investment is now stalling, and that the spike wasn't as big last year, even though total investment eclipsed the previous record set in 2010. Investors are likely backing off in response to a number of nations winding down their support for renewables: the US is about to let important tax breaks expire (and others already have), the U.K. is winding down its solar support, and Spain is collapsing its industry-leading renewable subsidy standard.

Strangely, big banks' desire to show the public that they're not evil incarnate may help investment in renewables stay apace, even absent good policy—the New York Times just ran a piece suggesting that biggies like Goldman, Wells Fargo, B of A, and others are underwriting green projects to help burnish their ridiculously tattered images (good luck). They've each loudly rolled out multibillion dollar funds dedicated to funding green projects.

All of which marks some encouraging progress, but it's still not enough—the report estimates that 16.7% of the world now runs on renewable energy, though much of that is from biomass used for cooking in the developing world. To oust coal in time to lower emissions output to a level scientists say is safe, we're going to need policies that further speed the transition process. Heaps of investment is an important piece (and a good sign), but fossil fuels have to be actively pushed out, too.

Tags: Renewable Energy

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