TODAY’S STUDY: NEW MONEY FOR NEW ENERGY WORLDWIDE
Global Trends In Renewable Energy Investment 2014
April 2014 (Bloomberg New Energy Finance for the UNEP and the Frankfurt School)
Total investment in renewable power and fuels (excluding large hydro-electric projects) fell for the second year running in 2013, reaching $214 billion worldwide, some 14% lower than in 2012 and 23% below the 2011 record. The decline reﬂected a sharp fall in solar system prices, and the effect of policy uncertainty in many countries. The latter issue also depressed investment in fossil fuel generation in 2013.
- If the drop in investment was a cloud, it had several silver linings. One was the sharply reduced cost of solar photovoltaic systems, which meant that a record amount of PV capacity (some 39GW) was constructed in 2013, and for less money than the smaller 2012 total of 31GW. A second silver lining was that 2013 brought a 54% recovery in clean energy share prices, stimulating equity raising by specialist companies on the public markets.
- A third was that in 2013 cost reductions and efﬁciency improvements enabled onshore wind and PV projects to be built in a growing number of locations around the world without subsidy support. Wind and PV may be able to out-compete fossil-fuel options as long as there are plentiful local sunshine or wind resources, low capital costs, and no cheap, indigenous coal or gas feedstocks.
- A fourth was that, renewable energy excluding large hydro made up 43.6% of the new power capacity added in all technologies in 2013 (the same ﬁgure as in the previous year), and raised its share of total generation worldwide to 8.5% from 7.8%. Global energy-related CO2 emissions would have been some 1.2 billion tonnes higher but for this contribution.
- Investment in wind was relatively resilient in 2013, falling just 1% to $80 billion, while that in solar tumbled 20% to $114 billion. Biofuels saw a 26% drop in investment to $5 billion, the lowest for nine years, while biomass and waste-to-energy fell 28% to $8 billion, and small hydro-electric (projects of less than 50MW) declined 16% to $5 billion. Geothermal was the only riser, investment in it gaining 38% to $2.5 billion.
- 2013 also saw an interruption to the previously rising trend of renewable energy investment in developing economies as a whole. After eight years of increases, this fell 14% last year to $93 billion. Investment in developed economies also retreated 14%, to $122 billion.
- Last year was the ﬁrst ever that China invested more in renewable energy than the whole of Europe. The Chinese total, although down 6% to $56 billion, ﬁnished well ahead of Europe’s shrunken $48 billion, down 44%. The US saw a fall of 10% to $36 billion, while India moved 15% down to $6 billion, and Brazil 54% down to $3 billion, the lowest since 2005.
- The only regions gaining ground in 2013 were the Americas excluding the US and Brazil, with a 26% increase to $12 billion, helped by positive trends in several Hispanic countries and in Canada, and Asia-Oceania excluding China and India, with a 47% rise to $43 billion. Japan was the biggest contributor to the latter move, as its solar boom helped to drive an 80% increase in renewable energy investment to $29 billion (excluding R&D).
- Among the different types of investment, asset ﬁnance of utility-scale wind farms, solar parks and other new installations fell 13% to $133 billion, while outlays on small-scale projects such as rooftop solar lurched downwards 25% to $60 billion - mostly due to the decline in PV system costs.
- Venture capital and private equity investment in specialist renewable energy companies slumped 46% to $2 billion, the lowest ﬁgure since 2005, as funds took a cautious view of young high-technology enterprises and of the chances of securing a proﬁtable exit. Government research and development spending on renewables rose 3% to $5 billion, while corporate R&D was 6% lower at $5 billion.
- The star performer among investment types was public market equity raising by renewable energy companies. This jumped 201% to $11 billion, the highest since 2010, spurred on by the rally in clean energy share prices and by institutional investors’ increased appetite for funds offering solid yields on portfolios of operating projects.
- Large hydro-electric projects, of more than 50MW, were another important area of renewable energy activity, albeit outside the main scope of the statistics in this report. At least 20GW of capacity are estimated to have come on stream in 2013, equivalent to approximately $35 billion of investment.
- Although investment in renewable energy capacity including all hydro in 2013 was once again below gross investment in fossil-fuel power, at $227 billion compared to $270 billion, it was roughly double the net ﬁgure for investment in fossil-fuel power excluding replacement plant.
Some foundations for future growth in the renewable energy market fell into place in 2013, even as investment levels declined for the second successive year. Lower costs, a return to proﬁtability on the part of some leading manufacturers, the phenomenon of unsubsidised market uptake in a number of countries, and a warmer attitude to renewables among public market investors, were hopeful signs after several years of painful shake-out in the sector.
Renewable energy continued to build up its share of the global electricity market. Renewables excluding large hydro projects accounted for 43.6% of the new generating capacity installed worldwide in 2013, raising its share of world electricity generation from 7.8% in 2012, to 8.5%. If this capacity were not present, world energy-related CO2 emissions would have been an estimated 1.2 gigatonnes higher in 2013, adding about 12% to the 2020 projected emissions gap that needs to be closed to remain within a two degrees Celsius global temperature increase.
New investment in renewable energy excluding large hydro-electric projects slipped 14% in 2013 to $214 billion, but even this disguised one major positive development. One of the two main reasons for this fall in 2013 was a reduction in costs in photovoltaics – even as the dollar investment in solar went down, the number of gigawatts of PV systems added went up.
Nevertheless, the decline in investment was disappointing for the industry and those hoping to see investors and ﬁnanciers increasing their dollar commitments to the decarbonisation of the energy system.
There were setbacks to investment in many important geographical areas, including China (down 6% at $56 billion), the US (down 10% at $36 billion) and – most of all – Europe (down 44% at $48 billion). The biggest exception to the downward trend was Japan, where investment excluding research and development soared 80% to $29 billion.
Behind That $214 Billion Figure
Worries about policy support, and reductions in technology costs, were the two main reasons for the fall in global ﬁnancial commitments to renewable energy in 2013. Both factors were also instrumental in the drop in investment in 2012 from its record in 2011, so the decline in 2013 could be seen as the second half of a two-year downward trend amounting to 23%. Investment in fossil fuel generation was also somewhat lower in 2013 than a year earlier.
Last year’s total of $214 billion was the lowest since 2009 and some $65 billion below the 2011 peak, although still ﬁve and a half times the 2004 tally of $40 billion and one and a half times the 2007 ﬁgure of $146 billion.
The make-up of the 2013 investment total is shown in Figure 2. The ﬁgure for new investment, $214 billion, is shown alongside a $54 billion number representing acquisition activity – corporate mergers and takeovers, asset purchases, buy-outs and reﬁnancings. These acquisitions do not represent new investment but are important for recycling ﬁnance in the sector, and are covered in this report in Chapter 10.
The new investment total consists of all the elements to the left of the $214 billion ﬁgure in Figure 2, starting with early-stage technology support through venture capital and government and corporate research and development, via assistance for more mature businesses from private equity and public market investors. Finally, there is the roll-out of utility-scale wind farms, solar parks and other projects via asset ﬁnance, and the deployment of small-scale distributed capacity such as rooftop solar. The year-by-year changes in each of these aggregates, and the headline sector and regional shifts, are shown in Figure 3.
Looking at the reasons for the decline in overall investment in 2013, worries about future policy support for renewables delayed investment decisions in countries such as the US, Germany, India, the UK, France, Sweden, Romania and Poland. In some other countries, such as Spain and Bulgaria, retroactive subsidy cuts for existing projects almost killed off investment entirely, while in Italy, the amount of PV capacity eligible for support quickly ran up against a government-set cap. The issues in these countries are explored in more depth in Chapter 1.
Technology costs were a second big reason for the latest fall in investment. Although PV module prices bottomed out in early 2013 as the industry’s severe over-capacity eased, balance-of-plant costs for PV systems continued to fall. In addition, there was a shift in the global mix of PV installations in 2013, with a lower share of relatively high-cost per MW residential systems and a higher share of relatively low-cost per MW utility-scale systems, particularly in China. The result was that although PV capacity installed was up from 31GW in 2012 to a record 39GW in 2013, dollar investment in solar capacity was down 23% at $104 billion.
There were other, local reasons for the lower investment ﬁgure in 2013. For instance, the Chinese wind market was held back by grid connection delays and by cash shortages as a result of a nationwide credit squeeze. In some other developing countries, there was a pause in the ﬂow of investment decisions. Financings in Brazil, for instance, were affected by the delay between auction rounds (in which large amounts of new wind capacity were awarded power purchase agreements last year) and the subsequent signatures on debt and equity deals for those projects.
A consequence of all these issues was that, for the ﬁrst time for at least a decade, there was a fall in investment in renewable energy in developing countries. The 14% reduction in dollar commitments to $93 billion in 2013 is shown in Figure 4, along with a similarly-sized slippage in investment in developed economies.
As well as the $214 billion global ﬁgure mentioned above, there were additional sums of money committed to large hydro-electric projects of more than 50MW. These projects are mature in terms of technology and fall outside the main scope of this report. However, at least 20GW of large hydro capacity are estimated to have been commissioned in 2013, equivalent to approximately $35 billion of investment. There is a box on large hydro investment at the end of Chapter 5.
Improvement In Fundamentals
Although renewable energy investment in 2013 was some 14% down on 2012, there were more hopeful signs for investment in 2014 and beyond. The ﬁrst sign was the further gain in the cost-competitiveness of the two leading renewable power technologies -- solar PV and onshore wind. Chapter 3 explains how over a ﬁve-year period to the ﬁrst quarter of 2014, the worldwide average levelised cost of electricity has declined by 53% for crystalline silicon PV systems, and 15% for onshore wind turbines. Over the same years, the cost per MWh of coal- and gas-ﬁred generation has increased in many countries, with the notable exception of the US where gas prices remain much lower than elsewhere.
The cost reductions for the two leading renewable technologies have enabled subsidies for new projects to be reduced, and brought wind and solar much closer to full competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives – even where the latter are not encumbered by carbon emission charges.
That brings us to the second patch of brightness in 2013. The year brought a trickle of signiﬁcant projects – many of them in Latin America but others in the Middle East and Africa – in which hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of investment was being made in wind and solar without any subsidy support.
Hydro-electric has for decades competed head-on with coal and gas. Now, in an increasing number of locations – generally those with strong wind resource or sunshine, an expanding need for power and no cheap indigenous fossil fuel reserves – wind and solar are doing the same.
The third shaft of light for renewables in 2013 came from investors themselves. After a four-and-a-half-year bear market in clean energy stocks that brought share prices down by a total of 78%, the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index, or NEX, bottomed out in July 2012. This bottoming developed into a strong rally during 2013, with the NEX, which tracked 96 clean energy stocks worldwide last year, gaining 54%. The improved share price performance took place as many companies in the solar and wind manufacturing chains moved back towards proﬁtability after the painful period of over-capacity and corporate distress in 2011-12. The impact of this on public market investment ﬂows is examined in Chapter 7.
There has also been a deepening in the involvement of long-term investors such as pension funds, insurance companies, wealth managers and private individuals in the equity and debt of wind and solar projects. This process is at a relatively early stage, and renewable energy still makes up only a tiny fraction, for instance, of pension fund assets. Both the developments of 2013 and some of the remaining obstacles are discussed in Chapter 4.
Where Investment Went In 2013
Figure 5 shows that investment in renewable power and fuels was dominated by wind and solar in 2013. Both generation sources saw reductions in their ﬁnancial ﬂows, of 1% and 20% respectively, but they still accounted for 90% of investment in renewables excluding large hydro.
In earlier years, other technologies such as biofuels and biomass and waste-to-energy accounted for much bigger slices of the overall cake, but in 2013, those two sectors saw investment of just $5 billion and $8 billion respectively, down 26% and 28% respectively. The ﬁgure for biofuels was the lowest in any year since 2004, and for biomass the lowest since 2005. Small hydro and geothermal remained small features in the overall renewable energy investment picture last year, accounting for $5 billion (down 16%) and $3 billion (up 38%) of outlays respectively.
Venture capital and private equity investment in renewable energy was depressed in 2013, down 46% at $2.2 billion, the lowest ﬁgure since 2005. VC/PE investors were held back by a lack of available capital, as there has been a dearth of successful exits for venture-backed clean energy companies in recent years and it has been difﬁcult to raise new funds; and by general wariness after a tough few years for early-stage technology players in renewable power.
The shrunken VC/PE ﬂow of 2013 was allocated as shown in Figure 6. Surprisingly, given that it is generally seen as a mature technology, wind was the largest recipient, at $1 billion. Much of the explanation was that wind attracted a signiﬁcant amount of new private equity capital into project development businesses. Solar soaked up $549 million of VC/ PE investment, far down on the peak year of 2008 when it took $5 billion, while biofuels took $333 million.
There was a very different outcome for public markets investment, which was buoyed up by the share price gains discussed above and recorded a 201% jump in 2013 to its highest level since 2010. Figure 7 reveals that solar took nearly half the $11 billion total last year, with wind second and important contributions also by geothermal and biofuels.
The largest single part of overall investment in renewable energy is the asset ﬁnance of utility-scale projects of 1MW or more. In 2013, this fell 13% to $133 billion, with the sector make-up displayed in Figure 8. Wind made up the largest part of this and suffered only a 3% decline, while solar, second largest, saw dollar commitments fall 20% even though the number of utility-scale megawatts installed actually increased.
Adding small-scale projects of less than 1MW to the comparison for capacity investment shows that solar was by some distance the leading renewable energy sector in 2013, just as it was in 2012 (see Figure 9). The last year in which there was higher dollar investment in wind capacity than in solar capacity was 2010.
There is, however, a difference between how those two top technologies compare in developed countries, and developing countries.
Despite the PV boom taking place in China, the dominant share of solar capacity investment in 2013 still occurred in developed economies, while developing economies took the lion’s share of spending on wind power projects.
Developing countries also led in small hydro while, last year at least, developed countries made up most of the investment in biofuel, biomass and geothermal capacity. A full geographical analysis of investment ﬂows follows in Chapter 1.
In summary, it could be said that 2013 for renewable energy was the ﬂip-side of 2011. In the earlier year, investment hit a record worldwide of $279 billion. However, there were many dark clouds, including collapsing share prices, severe pressure on solar and wind manufacturers caused by over-capacity, the fading of the green stimulus programmes, and the imposition of retroactive feed-in tariff cuts in Spain. In 2013, investment was down at $214 billion, but the mood was more cheerful, with share prices up, manufacturers rebuilding margins, and renewable energy being chosen for projects around the world on the back of its improved cost-competitiveness.