With solar PV installations in China expected to have reached 54 gigawatts in 2017, new figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show that global clean energy investment totaled $333.5 billion last year, up 3% and the second highest annual figure ever, coinciding with impressive momentum in both Mexico and Australia.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) published its annual clean energy investment figures this week, and it was good news almost all around. The mammoth year China had in terms of solar PV installations — which are expected to come in at around 54 gigawatts (GW) when all is said and done — helped push global clean energy investments to its second highest level ever, $333.5 billion, which is only 7% short of 2015’s record $360.3 billion.
China unsurprisingly led the way with a record $132.6 billion worth of clean energy investment in 2017, accounting for 40% of the global total — $86.5 billion of which was spent on solar investments, making up just over half of the world total spent on solar in 2017.
“The 2017 total is all the more remarkable when you consider that capital costs for the leading technology — solar — continue to fall sharply,” explained Jon Moore, chief executive of BNEF. “Typical utility-scale PV systems were about 25% cheaper per megawatt last year than they were two years earlier.” In other words, the decrease in solar costs has been well and truly offset by a massive increase in solar spending.
“China installed about 20GW more solar capacity in 2017 than we forecast,” added Justin Wu, head of Asia-Pacific for BNEF. “This happened for two main reasons: first, despite a growing subsidy burden and worsening power curtailment, China’s regulators, under pressure from the industry, were slow to curb build of utility-scale projects outside allocated government quotas. Developers of these projects are assuming they will be allocated subsidy in future years.
“Second, the cost of solar continues to fall in China, and more projects are being deployed on rooftops, in industrial parks or at other distributed locales. These systems are not limited by the government quota. Large energy consumers in China are now installing solar panels to meet their own demand, with a minimal premium subsidy.”
The second largest clean energy investor in 2017 was the United States, which spent $56.9 billion, up only 1% on its 2016 total — which doesn’t seem like much progress, until you take into account the almost preternatural opposition to clean energy that has taken hold of the White House.
There were of course a number of countries leading the way, but two countries which deserve special attention are Mexico and Australia, which saw clean energy investment increase by 516% to $6.2 billion and 150% to $9 billion respectively, thanks in part to large wind and solar project financing.
Unfortunately, there were a few countries which also saw their levels fall in 2017. Japan saw investment drop by 16% in 2017 to $23.4 billion, Germany dropped 26% to $14.6 billion, and the UK’s level dropped by an unhealthy 56% to only $10.3 billion. When looked at as a whole, Europe’s clean energy investment dropped 26% to only $57.4 billion.
“2017 was a breakout year for the Australian Clean Energy sector,” said Leonard Quong, a Senior Analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Sydney. “Total investment in clean energy in Australia rose to a record $9 billion, smashing the previous record of $6.2 billion set in 2011. However 2017 will likely mark a peak — investment will begin to taper over the coming years unless there is a significant change in government policy.”
It is unsurprising that solar was the leading recipient of clean energy investment in 2017 with a total of $160.8 billion, or around 48% of the global clean energy investment total. Wind was the second biggest sector with $107.2 billion, down 12% on 2016 levels — a disappointment offset slightly by record-breaking project financing deals for both onshore and offshore. Specifically, American Electric Power backed the 2 GW (gigawatt) Oklahoma Wind Catcher project at $2.9 billion, while Ørsted reached final investment decision on the 1.4 GW Hornsea 2 project worth an estimated $4.8 billion.
The third biggest sector receiving clean energy investment was energy-smart technologies — such as smart meters and battery storage, energy efficiency and electric vehicles — which took in $48.8 billion in 2017, up 7%. However, the remaining sectors fell far behind with the next closest, biomass and waste-to-energy, down 36% to only $4.7 billion.