Despite Economic Crisis, Clean Energy Emerging, Developing Countries Take the Lead

Sandia National Laboratory


Investments in clean energy companies and projects worldwide reached $155 billion in 2008. Not including large hydro (which may be clean but is hardly green). However, investment in the second half of 2008 was down 17% on the first half and down 23% on the final six months of 2007, a trend continuing in 2009.

Nevertheless, UNEP reports $13.5 billion of new private investment in companies developing and scaling-up new technologies. Plus $117 billion of investment in renewable energy projects from geothermal, wind, solar and biofuels.

Altogether, 2008 saw more than four times the investment of 2004. The breakdown, according to Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2009:

  • $105 billion to developing 40 GW of power-generating capacity from wind, solar, small-hydro, biomass and geothermal sources
  • $35 billion to developing 25 GW of large hydropower
  • Renewables currently account for the majority of investment and over 40% of actual power generation capacity additions last year
  • China became the 2nd second largest wind market in terms of new capacity
  • China became the  biggest photovoltaic manufacturer
  • Rises in geothermal energy getting underway in Australia, Japan and Kenya
  • Wind attracted the most new investment: 51.8 billion, 1% growth on 2007
  • Solar made largest gains: $33.5 billion, 49% growth
  • Biofuels dropped: $16.9 billion, 9% decrease
  • The price of solar photovoltaic modules is predicted to fall by more than 43% in 2009
  • Carbon markets grew 87% during 2008, reaching a total of $120 billion

Regionally, investment in Europe rose 2% in 2008 to $49.7 billion. Investment in North America fell 8% to $30.1 billion, due to financing shutdowns—thanks, Wall Street—and the fact that tax-credit driven markets are ineffective in a downturn. Yet developing countries surged forward 27% over 2007 to $36.6 billion, accounting for nearly one third of global investments:

  • China led new investment in Asia with an 18% increase over 2007 to $15.6 billion, mostly in new wind and some biomass plants
  • Investment in India grew 12% to $4.1 billion in 2008
  • Brazil accounted for almost all renewable energy investment in Latin America in 2008, with ethanol receiving $10.8 billion, up 76% from 2007
  • Africa achieved a modest increase, with investments up 10% to approximately $1.1 billion

Although private sector investment stalled in late 2008, governments appear ready to take up some slack in 2009. Sustainable energy investments are a core part of key government fiscal stimulus packages announced in recent months, accounting for an estimated $183 billion of commitments to date.

  • The US and China remain the leaders, each devoting roughly $67 billion
  • Yet South Korea’s package is the greenest with 20% devoted to clean energy—illustrating the political will of an increasing number of governments to secure future growth through greener economic development, according to the report

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