Investors are not just scaremongering on renewable subsidy changes

Solar panelsAs Italy becomes the latest European government to consider changing its solar subsidies, ministers should pay attention to today’s report into green investment from the Pew Environment Group.

The report looked like good news for European governments. Private investment into renewables in the European region totalled $94.4bn, about $20bn more than in 2009, and more than any other world region.

Germany and Italy both surged, with more than 100 per cent growth in investment in small-scale solar installations.

But this is no reason for Italy to become complacent and start setting caps on the amount of money it has promised to devote to solar subsidies. Politicians there only have to look at what political uncertainty has done to investment into the renewables sector in Britain: the total amount spent last year plummeted to $3.3bn from $11bn in 2009.

And the UK has just made things worse, by hurrying through an unexpected reduction in solar feed-in tariffs. Investors have warned this kind of last minute change will force them to allocate money elsewhere.

And while it is easy to write such warnings off as scare-mongering by those who have skin in the game, the impact hit home to me when I met Artemis, the UK investment group, which is just about to open an energy fund.

Why was their fund so light on renewables, one journalist asked (it has only a 10 per cent weighting in the sector, and almost all through biomass). And the reply from fund manager John Dodd: “Renewables are heavily reliant on government support. And when you look at what happened in Spain…”.

Spain’s solar subsidy cut has cast a long shadow over renewables investment, and the UK’s recent decision, which seemed motivated largely by pressure from the Treasury, is only likely to make things worse.

Meanwhile, China continues to power ahead, attracting $54.4bn in renewables investment last year, the second year in a row it has attracted more than any other G20 country.

And there is an ominous warning for western governments hoping that green growth will fuel their economic recoveries: a considerable amount of China’s cleantech manufacture is going abroad. Its cost efficiency now means that it makes half of the world’s solar panels and wind turbines, even in California, which has long been considered the home of PV technological innovation.

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