Global investment in green energy rises 17% to $270 billion

The world saw a record 103 GW of renewable energy capacity added last year – the equivalent of all 158 nuclear power plant reactors in the United States – and a 17% increase in global investment in green power generation to $270 billion, according to a new report released on Tuesday by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the annual Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report found that more than $2 trillion was invested in renewables worldwide between 2004 to 2014.

According to the study, solar, wind, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1% of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5% in 2013.

"Had the same amount of electricity been produced using the fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9% of world power, some 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 — roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry — would have been produced," the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre said in a statement.

The Chinese made by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year — a record $83.3 billion, up 39% from 2013, followed by the U.S. with $36.3 billion, an increase of 7% on the year but well below its all-time high reached in 2011. In third was Japan with $35.7 billion, 10% higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

The study showed that solar and wind accounted for 92% of all investment: Solar jumped 25% to $149.6 billion, the second-highest figure ever, while wind investments rose 11% to a record $99.5 billion.

Driven by solar and wind, global investment in green energy last year reversed a two-year dip, seemingly ignoring the challenge posed by sharply lower oil prices, the report found.

Major expansions of solar installations in China and Japan and record investments in offshore wind projects in Europe helped propel global investments to $270 billion, a 17% surge from the 2013 figure of $232 billion.

The overall boost market the first annual increase in dollars invested in and committed to renewables (excluding large hydro-electric projects) in three years. The $270 billion total is just 3% below the all-time record of $279 billion set in 2011.

The report attributes the falls in investment 2012, which reached $256 billion, and 2013 ($232 billion) in part to lower prices for renewable energy technologies due to economies of scale.