We say it all the time here at CleanTechnica: discussions about global warming and climate change are all well and good, but when it comes to getting things done, economics will make or break clean energy. According to the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018 report released April 5th, solar attracted the most number of investment dollars last year of all energy sources — more than coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind. Mostly, that is due to the fact that solar power costs less to install and maintain than other forms of energy generation. The report is the result of a collaboration between UN Environment, the Frankfurt School’s UNEP Collaborating Center, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and, more importantly, what the economic benefits are of such a shift,” says Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “Investments in renewables bring more people into the economy, they deliver more jobs, better quality jobs and better paid jobs. Clean energy also means less pollution, which means healthier, happier development.”
More than 98 gigawatts of solar power were installed worldwide last year. That number exceeds the amount of new energy installations from any other source. Not surprisingly, that means more money was invested in solar — $160.8 billion — than in any other energy technology. That number is up 18% over 2016. The total for all renewable energy was $279.8 billion, dwarfing the investment in new coal and natural gas facilities, which totaled $103 billion.
China was responsible for the lion’s share of the world’s new solar investments in 2017. It added 53 gigawatts of solar power last year and pumped up its investments in solar to a whopping $86.5 billion, a year-over-year increase of 58%. Solar in Australia was up 147% last year to $8.5 billion. Mexico saw its solar investment rise to $6 billion, up over 800%, and Sweden pumped up its solar investment 127% to $3.7 billion. Since 2004, worldwide investment in renewable energy now stands at nearly $3 trillion.
“The world added more solar capacity than coal, gas, and nuclear plants combined,” says Nils Stieglitz, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. “This shows where we are heading, although the fact that renewables altogether are still far from providing the majority of electricity means that we still have a long way to go.”
Indeed. Renewables account for only 12% of global power production. Solar investment actually fell in some of the larger countries. The US was down 6% to $40.5 billion. In Europe, solar investment fell 36% to $40.9 billion led by the UK — down 65% to 7.6 billion — and Germany — down 35% to 10.4 billion. Japan slipped 28% to $13.4 billion.
Angus McCrone, chief editor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance and lead author of the report, says, “In countries that saw lower investment, it generally reflected a mixture of changes in policy support, the timing of large project financings, such as in offshore wind, and lower capital costs per megawatt.” The UK has ended many subsidies for renewable energy, with predictable results. The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018 report was funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety.