First-quarter investment in green energy and technology hit a new low in the first quarter of 2013. That’s the bad, if not unexpected news, from Monday’s report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which recorded $40.6 billion in global investment in the first three months of this year, down 22 percent from the same period last year, and down 38 percent from the last three months of 2012.
Part of that dismal showing was due to “policy uncertainty in key clean energy markets such as the U.S. and Germany,” the report found, as well as a slowdown in otherwise active national markets like China and Brazil. Indeed, while 2012’s poor investment figures were largely driven by declines in venture capital and IPO performance of greentech companies, Q1 2013’s biggest decline came in asset finance of utility-scale wind farms and solar parks, which fell to $19.3 billion, down 34 percent form the same quarter last year.
But the first-quarter figures also reflect the plummeting price of photovoltaic solar panels, wind power equipment and operations costs, and other clean technology improvements, which means that projects are also getting cheaper to build on a cost-per-megawatt basis, BNEF CEO Michael Liebreich noted in a Monday statement.
“The plummeting cost of clean energy technology has kept activity high in terms of megawatts of capacity, but not so much in dollar terms,” Liebreich said. Indeed, we’ve been tracking the growth of solar projects amidst the savage price-cutting, led by Chinese PV manufacturers, that’s forced competing vendors into bankruptcy from the United States and Europe to, more recently, China itself.
At the same time, larger economic and regulatory factors are also putting the brakes on green investment. BNEF cited the uncertainty in the United States around renewal of the wind power industry’s production tax credits (PTC), as well as retroactive reductions in feed-in tariffs and other governmental financial supports in Europe, as key drivers of the overall decline in clean power.
By region, the United States saw clean energy investment fall to $4.5 billion, down 54 percent from the first quarter of 2012, while Europe saw investment drop 25 percent to $13.4 billion. Even China, which has been picking up the green power slack from the U.S. and Europe through 2012, saw investment fall in the first quarter to $8.8 billion, down 15 percent from the same quarter last year.
India also saw investment decline somewhat, the report stated. But outside of China and India, the rest of the Asia-Pacific region actually saw a pretty big increase in clean power investment, rising to $10.1 billion, up 47 percent from the first quarter of 2012.
Japan was responsible for the majority of that boom, with investment of $8.2 billion in the first quarter of this year. The island nation is suffering a major energy crisis, as it has shut down all but a handful of its nuclear power plants in the wake of 2011’s Fukushima disaster, and is investing in both fossil-fuel-based generation and green power projects to fill the gap. Indeed, small-scale solar investment in Japan reached $6.7 billion in the first quarter, more than double the investment in the same period last year, BNEF reported.