Fiona Harvey Clean energy bearing up in difficult times

Rumours of the death of the clean energy industry in the recession were exaggerated, it seems: new investment in clean energy technologies, companies and projects “held steady” in the second quarter at $33.9bn globally, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

This represented a slight decline of 1.5 per cent from the first quarter of 2010, and the year-on-year drop was more marked, with this year’s Q2 showing a 3 per cent fall from investment figures for the same period last year.

Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said this was good going, given the Greek and Eurozone crises, the continuing tightness of credit, and the sluggish US economic recovery.

“Despite continuing worries about the macro-economy, investors remain relatively optimistic about clean energy’s longer term prospects,” he said.

But this global figure masks a shifting pattern of clean energy investments around the world. Investments in European projects fell in the second quarter, while China continued its extraordinary build-out of clean energy, and the US showed evidence of a bounceback, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis.

Last year, China installed a whopping 14,000MW of new wind turbine capacity. Europe came nowhere near.

Europe is falling far behind China on asset financing for clean energy – China attracted $40.3bn of asset finance for clean energy in the past year, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance, compared with $29.3bn in Europe. Project financing in Europe has also fallen in each of the last four quarters.

Three major IPOs also failed to materialise – Solyndra and First Wind in the US, and Enel Green Power in Europe. Tesla Motors did manage a $202m IPO in June.

These investment figures make clean energy a substantial sector of the world economy. Analysts estimate that $200bn will be invested in clean energy this year. That is, an investment figure higher than the global revenues of the luxury goods market. Higher than the global annual sales of mobile phones.

Investment is not the same as revenues, and revenues from clean energy are harder to calculate. But by any measure this is a sizeable industry, and still growing at a clip – at least in some regions.