Global clean energy investment fell 11 percent to $268.7 billion in 2012, marked by a big drop-off in venture capital investment, but booming solar and wind installations were seen in countries like South Africa, Japan and most importantly, number-one spender China.
That’s the mixed bag of news from Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s 2012 clean energy investment report released Monday. While last year’s investment was down compared to 2011’s $302.3 billion, it’s still the second-highest year on record.
The world can thank China for that. China saw $67.7 billion in green energy investment in 2012, up 20 percent from 2011 and cementing its lead as top green energy investor. The United States, on the other hand, saw investment shrink 32 percent to $44.2 billion in 2012, to take a diminished second-place role amidst election-year policy uncertainty.
Other big growth markets included Japan, where investment rose 75 percent to $16.3 billion in 2012 in response to the country’s ongoing post-Fukushima power crisis, and South Africa, which saw investment rise from a few “tens of millions” in 2011 to $5.5 billion last year, BNEF reported.
But solar also saw severe setbacks in markets including Italy, down 51 percent to $14.7 billion amidst subsidy cutbacks, Spain’s even more drastic 68 percent fall to $3 billion, and a 44 percent drop in India’s solar sector.
Asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects like wind farms, solar parks and biofuel plants, fell to $148.6 billion from 2011’s $180 billion. But small-scale projects grew to $80.2 billion, up from $76.5 billion in 2011, driven by rooftop solar investment.
Corporate and government research and development stood at $30.2 billion in 2012, flat from last year. But 2012 green venture capital investment fell 34 percent to $5.8 billion, the lowest it’s been since 2006, according to BNEF’s figures. The Cleantech Group last week reported a higher $6.46 billion in global green VC in 2012, but tracked a similar downward trend from $9.61 billion in 2011.
Even more notable, public investment in clean energy companies fell 57 percent to $5.1 billion, according to BNEF. That's down 80 percent from 2007’s peak figure of $25.6 billion, and the lowest figure tracked by the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index (NEX) since 2004. SolarCity saw a successful IPO in December, but most of the companies that went public last year haven’t done so well, with bankrupt battery maker A123 being the most recent example.