Published on November 21st, 2018 | by Joshua S Hill0
Renewable Energy Markets Remain Cautious Amidst Ongoing Geopolitical Instability
November 21st, 2018 by Joshua S Hill
The 52nd issue of the Renewable energy country attractiveness index (RECAI) published by EY released earlier this month shows that the world’s leading renewable energy markets are content to bide their time amidst the larger geopolitical instability that threatens so many other aspects of the globe.
Specifically, China and the US remain atop the pile, despite the almost historic antipathy shown towards the renewable energy industry by the United States’ government, and the topsy-turvy nature of China’s solar industry this year. Now in its 16th year and 52nd edition, the bi-annual Renewable energy country attractiveness index (RECAI) ranks the top 40 countries on the attractiveness of their renewable energy investment and deployment opportunities.
The top 10 in EY’s list saw little change from the previous RECAI, and what change there was is limited to minor positioning swaps between country pairs. For example, while China and the United States kept their hold on the first and second spots, India and Germany swapped positions, as did France and Australia, and then Japan and the United Kingdom also swapped due to growing concerns around Brexit, while the Netherlands held onto 9th spot and Argentina crept into the top 10 after the country’s energy ministry announced the third round of its RenovAr auction program. There was more movement in the remaining 30 places, with no one country maintaining its previous position,
“An uncertain political climate – particularly the continuing trade disputes between the US and China, among others – compounded by the increasing scarcity of subsidies, presents a challenging backdrop to the maturity of the renewables sector,” said Ben Warren, EY Global Power & Utilities Corporate Finance Leader and RECAI Chief Editor. “However, oversupply will provide a short- to medium-term boost to the price competitiveness of renewables, and is also likely to drive some consolidation upstream. In the longer-term, increasing demand for power from the mobility and heating sectors provides something other than trade disputes for policymakers to focus on.”
While the major players remain relatively unmoved, EY found that less mature markets are more willing and able to make bold changes, which serves to explain the free-wheeling nature of the last three-quarters of this edition of the RECAI. Specifically, Egypt climbed five places to 15, Greece rose from 34th to 28th, but Sweden fell 10 places to 32.
Sitting at the top of the table, though, China and the United States might seem both unlikely and obvious attractive renewable energy markets. When you combine internal issues — for the United States, a Republican administration loathe to support renewable energy, and for China, a year filled with political uncertainty — and then add in the trade tensions between the two nations — including the United States’ 30% tariffs on solar panel imports — it might raise a few eyebrows as to why both countries remain sitting atop the pile.
With regards to China, much of the reason for its solid position in first is due to the long-tail of renewable energy development the country has sponsored and sought after. And while China has made moves to slow the growth of its renewable energy sector — such as cutting its solar PV targets for 2018 and reducing its Feed-in Tariff — EY analysts expect these moves will nevertheless increase the efficiency of the country’s renewable energy industry. Further, China’s government has made moves to support these technologies in reaching grid price parity so that they can compete on their own, without government subsidies, with more mature technologies. All in all, EY considers China’s renewable energy sector “in relatively good financial health.”
On the other side of the globe, the United States might seem an even more unlikely occupant of the second place on EY’s RECAI list, but as has been pointed out repeatedly since Donald Trump took office, where national policies are intended to stagnate or handicap renewable energy technologies, US states are picking up the slack and implementing their own ambitious renewable energy plans, serving to offset the top-down antipathy.
In seeking to understand the intricacies of this latest RECAI — and, in particular, China and the United States’ continued position atop the list — I asked RECAI Chief Editor Ben Warren some questions.
JSH: The US sits near the top of this latest RECAI, but it is not difficult to see that this is not due to any effort on the part of the nation’s administration. How important are sub-national entities becoming in the attractiveness of renewable energy investment and development?
BW: Our Renewable energy country attractiveness index takes into account how sub-national entities might differ from government policies, and how that might impact investor decisions. Particularly in the case of the US, sub-national entities such as State Governments are playing an increasing role in shaping renewable energy policy and subsequent investment. A number of developments over the past few months illustrate this; for example, states such as California, New York and Massachusetts have continued to push for renewables with ambitious targets.
China has a rough year, at least in regards to solar, and yet still sits atop the RECAI: What is EY’s expectations of China’s solar and renewable energy development over the next two years, and beyond?
What is critical to recognize with regards to China’s current renewables climate is that policy is reflecting a state of maturity for renewables, namely solar, for China. While renewable energy growth has indeed slowed in the past year, we see evidence that China is focusing on making the market more efficient and competitive via auctions, which signals that the Government intends for the market to be an important source of energy in the long-term. Despite growing more slowly, the sheer scale of the Chinese market is a dominant factor. Also, unlike many other countries, air pollution is an important driver supporting the growth of renewables. Beyond this and with regards to other renewable energies, China continues to be seen as a leading player, particularly in the electric vehicle and battery storage markets.
How important is the role of emerging and developing nations in the global attractiveness of renewable energy? Specifically, can you speak to the idea that many such nations are looking to and considering jumping the historically traditional nation-wide fossil fuel infrastructure investment and development step, in favor of focusing on renewable energy technologies – both distributed and centralized?
Emerging and developing nations are critical to understanding the global attractiveness of renewable energy; a significant number of our top 40 countries are developing countries, which is a testament to the importance of these markets. Argentina arriving in the top 10 for the first time is a good example of this trend. It is not necessarily the case that developing nations are simply replicating the energy model of more developed countries; for instance, in sub-Saharan Africa the rise of off-grid solar and distributed generation are a significant development which suits the energy environment of the region, which was not necessarily a phase that developed countries have completed in their journey to their power generation models of today.