Global investment in clean energy fell by 18 percent last year, according to new research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Investment still lags behind the level needed to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement.
But last year’s 18 percent drop doesn’t tell the whole story. Lurking among the numbers are a few bright spots.
Solar is getting a lot cheaper, reducing investment in solar.
It sounds paradoxical, but falling prices for photovoltaic solar have stunted investment. Solar energy is getting cheaper and cheaper every year, meaning developers can build more panels at lower cost. Falling costs for small-scale projects like rooftop solar, in particular, account for a significant share of declining clean-energy investment worldwide.
Offshore wind is getting big.
Offshore wind, once a pastime for Northern European countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark, is now going mainstream. The technology is finally taking hold in the United States, China and Taiwan.
Last year saw America’s first-ever offshore wind farm, a modest installation off the coast of Rhode Island. The U.S. will see more offshore wind in the years ahead, as developers build larger turbines that can produce more power at lower cost.
China has scaled back investment, but only temporarily.
Clean-energy investment in Asia saw a precipitous drop. China has built more renewable energy than it knows what to do with, and now it’s scaling back on development as it works to take advantage of existing capacity.
China is building a national power grid that will bring solar and wind energy generated in rural areas to coastal cities that need it. Currently, a good chunk of that clean energy is bottled up. (This problem is not unique to China. Globally, last year saw soaring investment in smart-grid technology that will help people take advantage of wind and solar power.)
The Chinese clean-energy slow-down is likely only temporary. Expect investment to bounce back. Last week, China announced it will spend $360 billion on renewables by 2020 as part of an effort to slow climate change and curb dangerous air pollution.
In Europe, clean-energy investment stayed more or less level. In the United States, investment took a small hit after Congress extended tax credits for wind and solar, giving developers more time to complete installations.
Falling prices for renewables and growing concern about climate change are likely to spur more investment in the years ahead. So, while the political future of renewable energy remains uncertain, particularly at the federal level in the U.S., the trends point in the right direction.