China Reclaims Top Spot Over US In Clean Energy Sector

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Movement within the clean energy sector during 2012 has been put under the microscope by The Pew Charitable Trusts in their fourth-annual Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? report. Released on Wednesday, the report states that a total of 88 gigawatts (GW) of additional generating capacity was installed during 2012, despite an 11% decline in investment levels from the year previously.

Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2012 Edition cover
Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2012 Edition cover

“Clean energy trends demonstrate the ongoing resilience of this emerging sector in the global economy,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s clean energy program.

“For the third straight year, investment reached more than $200 billion, and 2012 ended with five times that of 2004. Every year, new markets open up and more renewable power is deployed around the world. Even though government policies have been uneven and unpredictable in certain markets, the economic, environmental, and security benefits of clean technologies are driving the sector forward. Countries that prioritize policy are positioning themselves for increased private investment, as well as manufacturing and job-creation opportunities.”

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“We have seen a trend where in almost every year investment has expanded and this is one of the first years we’ve seen it contract,” Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s clean energy programme, said. “Part of the contraction is due to policy in the US and EU nations that have pulled back on their feed in tariffs, or made them less generous. There’s certainly been a contraction in investment.

“A decline in investment is certainly a bad trend that we hope will turn around. The thing that is hopeful, is that we have seen prices dropping more installations for less money. So that’s a good trend.

“China has done everything right by putting long-term consistent policies in place, goals for clean energy in every case they have increased them. If you’re looking for a place to invest, China sure looks like a good bet.”


Watch Phyllis Cuttino discuss the report in full:

China versus the US

2012 continued the ongoing trend of investments moving away from the Americas and into Asia and Oceania, as shown in the table below. The report states that “the Asia and Oceania region has experienced uninterrupted growth in investment annually for nine years and in 2012 became the leading regional destination for investment for the first time.”

Clean energy investment rose by 16% to $101 billion, which accounts for 42% of the global total. Despite the overall investment drop, the Asia and Oceania region actually saw investment growth, thanks primarily to gains seen in China and Japan.


While clean energy investment rose in Asia and Oceania, the overall drop can most likely be attributed to the 31% drop in investment in the Americas, dropping the levels of investment down to $50.3 billion. This drop, despite the meteoric 30% growth the year previously.

Specifically, the United States saw investments drop by 37% during 2012, with Brazil and Canada — the other two heavyweights in the region — dropping 32% and 23% respectively.

Though it didn’t fall in last in terms of investments — and hasn’t since 2008 — Europe sometimes seems to lose out in terms of mindshare under the battle that is “China versus the US.” Investment in the European clean energy sector dropped by 22% in 2012 to $87.6 billion.

Solar Beats Out The Rest

For the second year in a row solar technologies attracted more investment than any other clean energy technology, accounting for $126 billion in investment during 2012, 58% of the G-20 total.


Unsurprisingly, China attracted nearly double what it did in 2012, with $31.2 billion in solar investment. Helping boost Europe’s solar investment totals, Germany attracted $17.2 billion while Italy managed a healthy $14.1 billion. The United States had the third highest level of solar investment, above Italy with $16.5 billion, but saw financing fall below more than 50% from the 2011 level.

Wind energy still faired relatively well last year, acquiring $72.7 billion in investments, down 14% from the year before. Countries stereotypically seen as large markets for wind saw declines, including China, Germany, India, Brazil, as well as the United States which spent 2012 waiting for the impending expiration of the production tax credit. pewwind

Biofuels and other renewable technologies also saw declining investments during 2012.

However, though solar acquired the highest levels of investment, it was wind that saw the greatest level of installation thanks to declining prices. A total of 48.6 GW of wind was added in 2012, compared to 31 GW of solar, both reaping the low-cost benefits. China installed 16 GW, more wind energy than any other country, while the United States nearly doubled their wind energy installations, up to 13.6 GW for the year. Both China and the United States installed a total of 3.2 GW of solar energy for the year.

But it was Germany and Italy who again deployed more solar than any other country, adding 7.6 GW and 3.4 GW respectively.

An interesting note was Japan, who as a result of government policies enacted in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, saw solar investment rise by 84% for the year, growing to $15.7 billion and installing more than 2 GW of generating capacity.

The Good and Bad

A report such as this is invaluable for getting a hold on the clean energy industry as a whole. Despite declining investments, installations have continued to grow, especially in Asia where China has extended its dominance over the wind energy market. Governmental legislation will continue to hinder or help clean energy investment, though there is hope that the momentum already established will be enough to push through any interim governmental obstacles.

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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