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Clean Energy Investment Bounces Back, Slowly

The first quarter of 2013 was lacklustre, to say the least, for the global clean energy sector, but according to figures gathered by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Q2 investment in global clean energy was up, reaching $53.1 billion.

$53.1 billion represents a 22% increase from the first quarter, thanks in part to an increase in the financing of wind and solar projects as well as a 170% surge in equity funding for specialist companies on the public markets, but is still down on 2012’s Q2 funding figure of $63.1 billion.

2013’s rebound was led by the United States, which saw investment jump 155% over the year’s first quarter, reaching $9.5 billion. China and South Africa also bolstered global clean energy investment, with investment in China up 63% to $13.8 billion and South African investment reaching $2.8 billion.

However, the weak performance of 2013’s second quarter when compared to the previous year’s can be laid squarely at the feet of weak investment in Europe. Historically one of the world’s leading clean energy figureheads, European investment figures fell 44% compared to their first quarter, hitting a measly $9.5 billion — their lowest quarter of investment for over six years.

“These figures are a mixture of sweet and sour,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“On the sour side, 2013 globally is still running below 2012, which was itself down on the 2011 investment record. And European investment is clearly being hit by cuts in support for renewable energy and by policy uncertainty, notably ahead of the German election in September.

“On the sweet side, the US is back in business following the hiatus that resulted from fears about the possible expiry of the Production Tax Credit for wind at the end of 2012. And the 50% rally in clean energy share prices since their lows last summer, with rises of 200% or more for Tesla Motors and a clutch of major wind and solar manufacturers, is rekindling – at least for the moment – the appetite of stock market investors for equity raisings.”

Earlier this year, in April, Bloomberg New Energy Finance released figures that predicted clean energy investment would increase 230% in annual investment to $630 billion per year by 2030.

This record growth — up even on last year’s scenarios released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance — is attributed to improvements in the cost-competitiveness of wind and solar technologies when compared specifically to the relative fossil fuel alternatives, as well as increased implementation of non-intermittent sources of clean energy like hydro, geothermal, and biomass.

“The news right now is dominated by stories of pain caused by overcapacity on the supply side of clean energy, and the lure of cheap shale gas,” Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance said. “But this is playing out against the falling costs of renewable energy and of all the technologies required to integrate it into our energy system, and falling costs win. What it suggests is that we are beyond the tipping point towards a cleaner energy future.”

And while we may not necessarily see each financial quarter play out this growth, this year’s second quarter figures definitely lend their own measure of credence to Bloomberg’s earlier predictions.

2013 Q2’s biggest winner was asset finance of utility scale projects, which jumped 39% on the first quarter to $31.9 billion, but still down 21% year-on-year. Projects such as the MidAmerican Renewables’ 681 MW Solar Star photovoltaic project and EDF’s Blackspring Ridge’s 299 MW wind farm received $2.5 billion and $588 million in funding this last quarter.

However investment in small scale solar photovoltaic projects continued to move along at a steady trot, projects under 1 MW. These projects accounted for $1.7 billion in investment, down 15% year-on-year due primarily to the underlying cost of photovoltaic solar panels.

China was by far the largest investor in clean energy, unsurprisingly, pushing $13.8 billion at the industry. China was followed by the US at $9.5 billion, Japan, down 5% at $7.6 billion, South Africa at $2.8 billion, and Australia, up nearly sixfold at $2.3 billion.

Nicole Aspinall, lead analyst on Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s statistics team, commented: “We have revised our methodology for clean energy investment to include digital energy and energy storage infrastructure projects, which are increasingly seen as integral to the future. These include storage technologies such as batteries, flywheels and compressed air energy storage, and smart grid applications such as smart metering and distribution automation.”

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