Green energy investments surged globally in 2014 after two years of decline

A wind turbine spins near Zaragoza, Spain. David Ramos/Getty Images

Global investments in renewable energy rebounded strongly last year, rising 17% to $270 billion after two years of declines and despite sharply lower crude oil prices.

Solar installations in China and Japan and record investments in offshore wind projects in Europe helped drive global investments higher.

It was the first annual increase in dollars invested in and committed to renewables (excluding large hydro-electric projects) in three years, a total just 3% below the all-time record of $279 billion set in 2011.

The falls in the investment figures for 2012 (to $256 billion) and 2013 (to $232 billion) were attributed in part to lower prices for renewable energy technologies due to economies of scale.

New investments in renewable energy, by region, 2014, in US$ billions. Image: UNEP

The 103Gw of generating capacity added around the world made 2014 the best year for newly installed capacity, according to the UNEP’s 9th annual Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments report, prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

A decline in technology costs, particularly in solar but also in wind, means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014.

The 103GW of capacity added by new renewable energy sources last year compares to 86GW in 2013, 89GW in 2012 and 81GW in 2011.

The 103GW of capacity added by renewables last year equals the energy generating capacity of all the 158 nuclear power plant reactors in the US.

Wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1% of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5% in 2013.

This means that last year the world electricity system emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 less than it would have if that 9.1% had been produced by the same fossil-fuel mix generating the other 90.9% of world power. This is equivalent of twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and executive director of UNEP.

“These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China had the biggest renewable energy investments last year, a record $83.3 billion, up 39% from 2013.

The US was second at $38.3 billion, up 7% on the year. Third came Japan, at $35.7 billion, 10% higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

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