Global clean energy investment up 10% in first quarter

A 42% increase in small-scale solar investment in the first quarter of 2014 has helped the global renewable energy sector grow rapidly, according to the latest research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Worldwide, investment in clean energy grew by 10% in the first quarter of the year when compared to Q1 2013, reaching $47.7 billion. Although lower than the $58.1 billion invested in the final quarter of last year, the year-on-year increase is a solid indicator that the sector is growing exponentially.

Ongoing support for small-scale solar in the U.S. and Japan was fuelled by a raft of households and small businesses taking advantage of continuously low system prices in the PV sector that have made the industry a more attractive proposition, said the analysts.

"It is too early to say definitively that 2013 was the low point for clean energy investment worldwide and that 2014 will show a rebound, but the first-quarter numbers are encouraging," said BNEF’s chairman of the advisory board, Michael Liebrich. "Two trends in particular are worth picking out – the increasing share of small-scale solar in overall investment, following a 50%-plus improvement in PV’s levelized cost of electricity per MW over the last four years; and the geographical expansion of investment to more and more emerging economies. In Q1, we saw two of the top four asset finance deals happening in Indonesia and Kenya."

Of the combined $47.7 billion total, $12.1 billion was invested in Asia and Oceania (excluding China and India), representing a healthy 26% increase in clean energy investment year-on-year, with Japan’s solar strength playing a huge part in this growth. The largest increase in clean energy investment by country was in Brazil – which enjoyed a 211% increase – and the U.S., which posted a gain of 95% year-on-year ($7.9 billion). Investment was also robust in the Middle East and Africa; regions that saw an 82% increase to $2.4 billion.

However, investment in the Americas (excluding the U.S. and Brazil) was down by 11%, with just $2.1 billion invested in Q1, as well as Europe, where clean energy spending contracted by 30% to $11.1 billion. China led the way in terms of overall clean energy investment, plowing a further $9.9 billion into the sector in the first quarter of this year – an increase of 18% on 2013.

Small-scale solar leading way

Broken down by energy category, it was solar PV – specifically investments in solar projects of 1 MW and under – that led the way. Total investments in this sector rose to $21.1 billion in Q1 2014 – a figure that represents a 42% rise year-on-year.

Public markets investment in specialist clean energy companies also grew strongly, increasing by 195% to reach $3.6 billion, although venture capital (VC) and private equity spending fell by 26% to just $1.2 billion in the first quarter, according to BNEF.

For the solar sector overall, investment increased by 23% to $27.5 billion, while spending on wind power fell by 16% to $13.9 billion – a notable turnaround in the space of just a few years, with solar power now the leading source of clean energy investment in the world.