Clean energy investment slump hits utility solar

  • Utility-scale solar has been hit by investment decline.
    Utility-scale solar has been hit by investment decline. Image: AMagill.

Investment in utility-scale solar and wind farms is the biggest victim of a worldwide slump in clean energy finance in the first quarter of 2013.

New analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance reveals that global clean energy investment in the first three months of this year fell to US$40.6 billion, a 22% decline on the same period last year.

Among the different types of investment BNEF said the asset finance of utility-scale solar and wind farms had been hit the hardest, recording a 34% year-on-year fall to US$19.3 billion.

BNEF blamed policy uncertainty in key markets for the decline.

In Germany, for example, it said discussions within government over a possible retroactive cut to the country’s solar feed-in tariff had shaken confidence, although this measure is now unlikely to happen.

On a national level, clean energy investment in the US fell particularly sharply by 54% compared to last year, again due to policy uncertainty, BNEF said.

China suffered a 15% setback with investment falling to US$8.8 billion.

But areas of Asia outside India and China defied this trend, recording an overall 47% increase in investment to US$10.1 billion. BNEF said this was due mainly to a jump in small-scale project outlays from US$5 billion a year earlier, to $7.9 billion in Q1 2013.

Japan, which has been enjoying a PV boom under its generous feed-in tariff, was largely responsible for this increase, recording an US$8.2 billion surge in investment. Small-scale solar investment in Japan reached US$6.7 billion in Q1 2013, more than double a year earlier.

Indeed the US$345 million investment decision for a 70MW Kyocera solar PV plant in Japan represented one of the biggest deals of the quarter recorded by BNEF.

Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “The last 18 months have seen a number of significant support programmes launched in the aftermath of the financial crisis come to an end. The plummeting cost of clean energy technology has kept activity high in terms of megawatts of capacity, but not so much in dollar terms.

“For investment in clean energy to play its role in stemming the growth in world emissions, we would need to see investment levels at least double by 2020, rather than fall.

“Having said that, as always, there are some regions and technologies doing well. And previous history has shown that the first quarter of the year is generally the weakest, as banks and investors recover their breath from a rush of year-end deal-closing.”

Total new investment in clean energy worldwide in 2012 was US$268.7 billion, down from a peak of US$302.3 billion in 2011 but still more than five times the total in 2004.

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