Green Economy

Published on May 21st, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


We're No. 11! USA! USA! USA!

May 21st, 2010 by  

A recent NRDC analysis of a Pew study found that the ten nations leading the world in government investment in renewable power have now passed the US by. The US had the 8th fastest growth over the last 5 years, trailing South Korea, China, Australia, France, India, the UK, and Turkey.


As a percentage of GDP, the most realistic comparison, our government investment lags the top ten. China’s clean energy investment is 0.39% of its GDP – which puts China in 3rd place, while the US invests only 0.13% of GDP in renewable energy development – in 11th place behind China, Spain, Brazil, the UK, and five other smaller nations.

At No. 11, the US comes in right after…   Mexico.

The drop in the relative investment percentage by the US has long been concealed by comparisons that compare apples to oranges, because they do not take into account the disparity in the sizes of the economies being compared. Europe, with an economy of $14.51 trillion is comparable to the US, with a $14.29 trillion economy.

The GDP of an individual nation in Europe is not comparable with ours.

Instead, we hear comparisons between the entire US and just one European nation,  for example, a Bloomberg headline like “US Overtakes Germany in Wind Power” mistakenly create the impression that we are No. 1.

But Germany’s GDP is under $3 trillion. The GDP of the US is $14.29 trillion.

In terms relative to each nations GDP, Spain actually invested five times more than the United States last year, and China, Brazil and the United Kingdom invested three times more, according to the NRDC analysis of the Pew study Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? Growth, Competition and Opportunity in the World’s Largest Economies (PDF).

The policies that the ten nations that beat us enacted to get clean energy moving is not so different from what we have in the US: just in some cities, counties or states. The most far reaching is the EU-wide  cap and trade market developed as a result of the EU signing Kyoto.

These policies include Renewable Energy Standards, Feed in Tariffs, green bonds (like SRECs) auto efficiency standards, government procurement, and the European Trading System cap and trade market.

Our failure to agree on real investment has real energy security implications for the US. Some nations are hurtling ahead in government infrastructure investment that will ensure that their populations have a more secure energy future than this nation. China for example, had 3% of the solar market in 2006. Four years later, China’s share is now 45%.

Spain, even with its current financial problems at home, went on to unleash globally the power of the renewable energy giants that their Feed-in Tariff policy built. Abengoa now dominates the solar thermal market globally.  Iberdrola was developed domestically – now it is the largest renewable energy operator in the world.

Image: Flikr User cranberries

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • Muni

    Hi Susan,
    I am interested in making my home solar, I do not see you listed the state of Nevada in your companies service areas?. Is there anyone or any company providing services in vegas or Nv similar to what you do?.

    Any suggestions will be appreciated.


    • You should contact a solar installer in your state. Nevada should be a green energy-friendly state with that great sun! SunRun is trying to be available to people in more states, but it is all about the legislation that allows (or forbids) competition from solar PPAs with fossil energy utilities.

  • J

    Thanks to George Bush and all the EVIL Republicans, the US over took Germany and became NUMBER ONE ! ! ! ! in the world for installed capacity of wind power by the end of 2008.

    The US is number one in Geo-thermal energy production, out pacing Iceland, although it has the highest use of geo-thermal per capita, it’s population is less than many US cities.

    The US has recently out produced Brazil in ethanol production, ~8 billion gallons as compared to our ~12 billion gallons per year.

    Because of differences in population, per capita expenditures, etc. you can come up with just about any negative statistic and toot your horn in any direction you want.

    China, by sheer weight of it’s population will be number one in many respects. It has ~40 million installed solar hot water heaters, #1 in the world.

    The US by size and dynamic of it’s economy will no doubt rocket to number one in many areas in the future.

    Between 1939 and 1945, the US went from mouse to powerhouse in short order.

    Don’t discount the US like all the rest of the King oumgbama “bad mouth America first” crowd.

  • origo

    Why are those in the U.S. Congress providing $4 billion to develop carbon dioxide sequestration technology when such technology will serve only to prolong our dependence on carbon fuels? Members of Congress are pandering to the fossil fuel industries. Why can’t Congress use that $4 billion to develop vehicle onboard water-splitting systems so that we can achieve total energy independence from fossil fuels now—not sometime in the future? No carbon dioxide emissions from water means no need for carbon dioxide sequestration.

    Water dissociation systems using several existing photocatalysts is an existing technology, waiting to be utilized. That BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is floating on top of the very substance that, while hiding in plain sight, can be the answer to U.S. energy independence.


    • The APA climate bill doesn’t “provide” $4 billion for CCS, it will just give a loan guarantee – to any source that lowers GHGs. So if the coal company can’t find financing (for the Feds to guarantee) no loan guarantee from the Feds.

      Likely investors will pick cheaper, less polluting solar and wind than expensive CCS and nukes that both have disposal problems. So APA evens the playing field by pricing carbon into the equation, that’s all.

  • Sven

    That really sucks. We should be somewhere around 150th place.

    The last time I checked, the means of production in this country was mainly privately owned.

    • Well, I’d like us to be first.

      The internet, the freeway, the railroad, GPS systems, the high-speed trains they have in other countries, hybrid cars in Japan, even the aquaduct system of the Roman Empire – there’s just so many examples of ways that initial government investment ultimately creates an economy of new private investments that only happen because the initial investment was made.

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