US Tops Clean Energy List: Report
April 13, 2012

US Tops Clean Energy List: Report

Brett Smith For

A federal push for renewable power helped the United States overtake China as the world´s largest investor of clean energy last year, researchers for the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts reported on Wednesday.

Experts cited the government´s policy as the driving force for the 42 percent increase in investments.

"Investors rushed in to take advantage of expiring policies, such as tax incentives, loan guarantees, which expired at the end of 2011," director of Pew´s Clean Energy program Phyllis Cuttino told BBC News.

The report, titled "Who´s Winning the Clean Energy Race?," said U.S. capital investment into clean energy jumped from $34 billion in 2010 to $48 billion last year. During that same time period, China´s renewable energy investment dropped $500 million to $45.5 billion in 2011. Germany, Italy, and “the rest of the EU-27” rounded out the top five investors.

Although the United States can claim the top spot for 2011, the world superpower “is not even in the top 10” for investment growth and “it lags other nations in deployment of clean energy assets” over the past five years, the report said.

The report also noted a disconnect between Americans´ energy innovations and investments in their laboratories and the ability to increase capacity in the marketplace. For example, the United States was the top destination for solar energy investments worldwide at $30 billion, but deployed only 1.7 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity in 2011. The report said that several of the solar projects receiving funds last year were long term investments that have yet to go online.

The world´s second-highest investor China continued to draw a significant amount of investment for wind energy. The world´s most populous country added 20 GW of wind capacity while investing $29 billion in 2011. China still leads the world in installed clean energy capacity at 133 GW. The United States is second in renewable energy capacity with 93 GW.

International trends in technology prices and the number of investments helped to boost the worldwide renewable energy production 83.5 GW to an all-time high of 565 GW. Comprising 10 percent of the total energy capacity, renewable energy sources out produced nuclear power by almost 50 percent and reduced carbon emissions by around 5 percent, according to the Breakthrough Institute, a liberal California-based think tank.

“Significant policy uncertainty” cited by the report and a gridlock-inducing presidential election have fueled doubts that the U.S. will continue its world-leading investment pace. The Department of Energy reached out to companies last week in an effort to continue the loan guarantee program that has $170 million in funds allocated by Congress in April of 2011.

Scandals involving companies like Solyndra have soured many politicians, particularly Republicans, on the idea of government interference into energy markets. That company filed for bankruptcy in 2011 after receiving more than $535 million in federal loan guarantees.

Last week´s announcement by the Department of Energy has yet to come under significant scrutiny from either Democrats or Republicans. A spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, did not raise objections to the department´s announcement.

“We´re always concerned when we´re using taxpayer money to pay for the credit subsidy, but this is money that´s already been appropriated,” the spokesman, Robert Dillon, said.