Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012
November 2012 (United Nations Enviroment Program and Bloomberg New Energy Finance)
(Note to readers: This report was published in June but just released publicly.)
* Global investment in renewable power and fuels increased 17% to a new record of $257 billion in 2011. Developing economies made up 35% of this total investment, compared to 65% for developed economies.
* The US closed in on China in the race to be the lead investor in renewable energy, with a 57% leap in its outlays to $51 billion. India however displayed the fastest expansion rate for investment of any large renewables market in the world in 2011, with a 62% increase to $12 billion.
* One of the dominant features of the renewable energy landscape in 2011 was falling technology costs. Photovoltaic module prices fell by close to 50%, and onshore wind turbine prices by between 5% and 10%. These changes brought these two leading renewable power technologies closer to competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives such as coal and gas.
* The other key feature was a weakening in policy support for renewable energy in many developed countries. This reflected austerity pressures, particularly in Europe, and legislative deadlock in the US Congress.
* This policy hiatus, coming ironically at a time when fully competitive renewable power is starting to be a realistic possibility in a few years’ time, is posing a threat to continued growth in investment in the sector in 2012 and beyond.
* That in turn puts into jeopardy hopes that investment in clean energy will reach sufficient levels to start to reduce global carbon emissions before 2020 – and provides a worrying backdrop for the coming Rio+20 United Nations Conference, which is largely focused on the “greening” of the global economy.
* There is, so far, no better example of economic “greening” than what has been achieved in the last seven years in the power sector. In 2011, renewable power (excluding large hydro) accounted for 44% of new generation capacity added worldwide, up from 34% in 2010 and just 10.3% back in 2004. The proportion of power generated by renewables (excluding large hydro) rose to 6% in 2011 from 5.1% the previous year.
* Total investment in solar power jumped 52% to $147 billion in 2011, reaching a figure almost twice as high as that in wind energy, at $84 billion, down 12%. Last year was not the first time that solar has led wind in terms of dollars committed, but it was the first time that the gap in favour of solar was anything apart from narrow.
* The performance of solar owed most to booming rooftop PV installations in Germany and Italy as property owners moved to take advantage of falling panel prices, and a spurt in the financing of large-scale solar thermal electricity generation (STEG, or CSP) projects in Spain and the US.
* Small-scale projects attracted $76 billion of investment worldwide in 2011, up a quarter from the $60 billion spent in 2010, despite rapidly falling prices for PV panels. Italy with $24.1 billion trumped Germany with $20 billion. Japan, the US, Australia, the UK and France also saw significant investment in small-scale PV.
* Share prices in the renewable energy sector had a dismal 2011, in the face of overcapacity in the solar and wind manufacturing chains and investor unease about the direction of support policies in both Europe and North America.
* The WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index, or NEX, slumped 40% during the year, while the Nasdaq and S&P500 ended the year almost exactly where they started. This severe under-performance by clean energy shares acted as a major dampener on public market financing of companies in the sector.
* The sovereign debt crisis in Europe in late 2011 hit the ability of banks to provide their usual flow of project finance. This increased the focus on possible, alternative sources of investment for renewable energy – such as pension funds and other long-term institutional investors.
* In early 2012, an $850 million bond issue for a PV project owned by Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Holdings underlined the potential of green bonds as an instrument for financing renewable power projects.
Global investment in renewable power and fuels increased 17% to a new record of $257 billion in 2011. This was more than six times the figure for 2004, and 94% more than the total in 2007, the last year before the acute phase of the world financial crisis.
The percentage increase in investment between 2010 and 2011 was smaller than the 37% rise seen between 2009 and 2010, but it took place at a time when the cost of renewable power equipment, particularly solar photovoltaic modules and onshore wind turbines, was falling fast. The percentage growth in dollar investment would have been significantly larger in 2011 if it had not been for this deflation in the costs of PV and wind technology. The spectacular improvement in cost-competitiveness of renewables is explored in depth in Chapter 2. Last year’s increase in investment in renewable energy also took place at a time of uncertainty over economic growth and policy priorities in developed economies – and those issues continue to pose a serious threat in 2012 to the low-carbon transition and hopes of progress towards a “green economy”.
Two highlights of 2011 were the performance of solar, and the performance of the US. Wind is the most mature of the “new” renewable power technologies, and has usually been the biggest single sector for investment over recent years.
However in 2011, it was out-stripped by solar, which attracted nearly twice as much investment – the first time a gap of anything like this magnitude has opened up for solar over wind.
Total investment in solar power jumped 52% to $147 billion. It was helped by booming rooftop photovoltaic installations in Germany and Italy, the spread of small-scale PV to other countries from China to the UK, and a spurt in the financing of large-scale solar thermal electricity generation (STEG, or CSP) projects in Spain and the US.
By contrast, total investment in wind power slipped 12% to $84 billion, impacted by lower turbine prices, policy uncertainty in Europe and a slowdown in China’s previously hectic growth in wind installations.
The boom in solar investment in 2011 took place against the backdrop of significant corporate distress in that sector, and tumbling share prices. The explanation for this apparent inconsistency between the year for companies and the year for solar as a whole was that prices of PV modules were falling rapidly thanks to economies of scale in manufacturing, the rise of low-cost Chinese producers, and global over-capacity. The result – a near-50% fall in module prices during the year – stimulated demand for PV panels, particularly on rooftops, but it was also toxic for the financial results of many hardware makers. By the end of 2011, PV modules were selling in world markets for between $1 and $1.20 per Watt, some 76% below their prices just three and a half years earlier, in the summer of 2008.
The second highlight was a resurgence – at least temporarily – in the United States’ importance in the renewable energy sector. Beaten into a distant second place by China in both 2009 and 2010, the US rallied to neck-and-neck with China in 2011, on the back of a 57% surge in US investment in renewables to $51 billion. Investment in renewable power and fuels in China gained a more modest 17% to $52 billion, still just a fraction ahead of the US (but actually behind the US if investment in energy-smart technologies such as efficiency and smart grids is also included). Investment in Germany – which pushed the US hard for second position in 2010 – dipped 12% to $31 billion1.
The US bounce-back owed much to the fact that three significant incentive programmes for renewable energy either reached expiry during 2011, or headed towards scheduled expiry. In each case, developers rushed to finance projects in time to take advantage of the policy measure before it expired. The Federal loan guarantee programme, which reached “sunset” at the end of September 2011, covered $16.1 billion of debt for projects such as BrightSource’s 392MW Ivanpah solar thermal project in southern California. The US Treasury grant programme, introduced to provide an alternative to the tax equity market, which had been hard hit by the financial crisis, came to an end on 31 December last year. The Production Tax Credit, the main support for US wind, is due to expire at the end of 2012, and with the two parties in Congress at loggerheads, few investors were confident that legislators would agree to extend it into 2013 and beyond.
Figure 1 shows the resilient growth of renewable energy investment since 2004, with expansion continuing through the recession of 2008-09 and the subsequent, disappointing recovery in developed economies. That growth has been accompanied by a significant rise in the job creation, and overall economic contribution, of the renewable energy sector – and that looks likely to continue to 2020 as the world seeks to curb emissions from its energy system. The importance of the “green economy” is explored in Chapter 3 of this report.
However one of the messages of this report is that while progress towards the expansion in renewable energy capacity was once again impressive in 2011, its smooth continuation in 2012, 2013 and after is not guaranteed. Risks of an interruption have increased. If a serious setback were to beset investment in renewables, the vision of a “green economy” to be discussed at the Rio+20 meeting on 20-22 June could recede into the distance.
Threats To Investment
Although the renewable energy sector has continued to grow, wider economic problems have had an impact since 2008, and they remain a threat. In late 2011, the euro area sovereign debt crisis started to impact the supply of debt for renewable energy projects in Europe, as banks responded to sharp increases in their cost of funding and upgraded their assessments of the risks involved in lending to borrowers in Italy, Spain and other affected countries.
More generally, the fact that consumers have found their finances under pressure has made governments more reluctant to wave through measures that would put up energy prices. In the US, support in Congress for clean energy and putting a price on carbon has ebbed, in the face of low natural gas prices that have made gas-fired generation look a cost-effective alternative, and new concerns about the cost of renewable energy support. The outlook for gas supply has changed dramatically, with the technological advances in “fracking”. Complaints about the cost of subsidies for renewables gathered strength after the scandal over the bankruptcy of PV technology company Solyndra, which received $538 million of Federal loan guarantees.
In Europe, governments struggled to adjust feed in tariff subsidies for solar power quickly enough – in the face of rapid reductions in the cost of the technology. These cost reductions resulted in greater-than-intended returns for PV project developers, and booms in installation, especially in Italy and Germany, both of which saw more than 7GW installed in 2011. Inevitably, governments in Europe and elsewhere have responded by cutting subsidies sharply – and in the case of Spain, barring subsidies for any new renewable power project not so far approved.
With PV solar and onshore wind equipment prices falling rapidly, there is a “promised land” in sight in which these technologies will not require any subsidy. Rooftop solar is already competitive with retail electricity in a number of locations, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that the average onshore wind project will be competitive with gas-fired generation by 2016.
The danger however is that hastily made cuts in support might make a serious dent in investment in developed economies in 2012-14 – before wind and solar can reach that goal of competitiveness. That would be a damaging blow not just for businesses in those industries but also for hope of limiting carbon emissions and climate change, and for those working in the emerging “green economy”.
$257 Billion Investment
…Different types of investment displayed very different fortunes during the year – venture capital investment, for instance, rose 5% to $2.5 billion, but government-funded and corporate research and development both fell back.
Government R&D slipped 13% to $4.6 billion as the effect of “green stimulus” packages faded; corporate R&D weakened 19% to $3.7 billion as companies responded to pressure on their own finances.
Private equity expansion capital investment dropped 15% to $2.5 billion. Equity-raising by renewable energy companies on the public markets also fell back last year, down 10% to $10.1 billion, as investors shied away from a sector that was suffering heavy share price falls.
The two types of new investment that did see significant growth in 2011 were asset finance of utility-scale (1MW-plus) renewable power plants and biofuel refineries; and small-scale distributed capacity, notably rooftop solar. Asset finance was up 18% to $164.4 billion, while small-scale projects saw $75.8 billion invested, down 5% at just $246 million. A large (254MW) South Korean tidal barrage project started full operations in 2011, but it had been financed several years earlier.
Solar was the leading sector in venture capital and private equity provision of renewable energy, with $2.4 billion (see Figure 6). As a relatively mature technology, wind has tended to lag behind in terms of VC/PE investment, and in 2011 it came fourth with just $520 million committed, down 66%. Ahead of it were biomass and waste-to-power, with $1 billion of VC/PE money secured, nearly three times the previous figure, and biofuels with $804 million secured, up 9%.
Moving onto public markets investment (Figure 7), wind and solar vied for first place in terms of the value of new equity-raisings, at $4.5 billion and $4.2 billion respectively, down 2% and 23% on their 2010 totals. Biofuels and geothermal obtained $654 million and $406 million respectively, up 37% and 360%.
In asset finance of utility-scale projects (Figure 8), wind retained a lead over solar, with $82.4 billion committed, down 11%, against the latter’s $62.1 billion, but the latter was up no less than 147% compared to 2010. Looking one level of detail further down, the major renewable power sources showed some interesting technological trends. The two have historically been dominated by onshore wind and PV respectively, but last year offshore wind loomed large and contributed $12.5 billion to the total value of wind assets financed, while solar thermal accounted for $20 billion of the total solar figure – in both cases, the highest on record.
Total capacity investment is shown in Figure 9. This brings together small-scale projects with the utility-scale developments. On this measure, solar dominated in 2011, with $137.8 billion invested, up 61% on 2010 – thanks in greatest part to the expansion of rooftop PV in Europe and elsewhere. On the total capacity investment measure, wind was the second-largest sector with $82.4 billion, biomass and waste-to-power third with $8.8 billion (down 16%), small hydro fourth with $5.4 billion, and biofuels fifth with $3.5 billion (down 36%).
Investment In 2012
Investment in renewable energy was subdued in the first three months of 2012, in the face of uncertainty over future policy support in Europe and the US. Although there were, by May, a few signs that governments were trying to clarify specific issues for investors, there was not yet any evidence that investment levels would accelerate in the rest of the year.
Figures from the Bloomberg New Energy Finance database of deals and projects show that asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects in Q1 2012 was $23.3 billion (after adjusting for reinvested equity), down 36% from the fourth quarter of 2011 and 14% below the figure for the first quarter of last year (see Figure 10).
In fact, Q1 2012 was the weakest quarter for renewable energy asset finance since the first quarter of 2009, in the depths of the financial crisis. There were still some big projects financed however – including the 396MW Marena Wind Portfolio in Mexico for $961 million, the 100MW KVK Chinnu solar thermal plant in India for approximately $400 million, and the 201MW Post Rock Wind farm in Kansas, US, for an estimated $376 million.
The largest projects financed in Europe in Q1 – in the face of a difficult market for bank lending – were the 150MW Monsson Pantelina wind farm in Romania at $317 million, and the 60.4MW SunEdison Karadzhalovo solar PV plant in Bulgaria at $248 million.
Venture capital and private equity investment in renewable energy companies was resilient, at $1.4 billion worldwide in Q1, up from $1.1 billion in Q4 and $1.2 billion in the equivalent quarter of 2011. Solar and biofuels were the two dominant sectors for VC/PE equity-raisings.
Public markets investment was just $473 million, down 46% from Q4 and 87% from Q1 2011. This was not surprising given the poor performance of clean energy shares over the last few quarters. The WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index, or NEX, which tracks the movements of 98 clean energy shares worldwide, fell 40% in 2011 and clawed back just 7% in the first quarter of 2012 as world stock markets rebounded.