Clean energy investment at all-time high

A man reaches for an unleaded petrol nozzle at a petrol station in Hook, near Basingstoke on Jan 20, 2016.
A man reaches for an unleaded petrol nozzle at a petrol station in Hook, near Basingstoke on Jan 20, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Oil prices might have crashed to US$30 a barrel, but cheap fossil fuels have not dampened investments in clean energy around the world. A record US$329 billion (S$462 billion) was pumped into the sector last year.

As much as 64 gigawatts of wind and 57 gigawatts of solar power were also commissioned - the biggest capacity in a year - according to data by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released last month.

Oil and clean energy are in fact not directly linked, said Bloomberg. Oil is used mostly in the transportation industry while clean energy goes towards producing electricity.

Countries that made hefty investments in clean energy last year included China, the United States and India. Total investment worldwide was up 4 per cent from levels posted the year before.

Several factors contributed to the record high: Prices for solar photovoltaics and wind turbines have been falling, while several offshore wind farms in the works have received substantial funding, said Bloomberg.

Also key were supportive government policies and a growing commitment by businesses to adopt renewable energy sources.

"Wind and solar power are now being adopted in many developing countries as a natural and substantial part of the generation mix," said Mr Michael Liebreich, who chairs the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

"They can be produced more cheaply, below often high wholesale power prices; they reduce a country's exposure to expected future fossil fuel prices; and above all they can be built very quickly to meet unfulfilled demand for electricity. And it is very hard to see these trends going backwards, in light of the Paris Agreement adopted in December."

A large chunk of last year's record investment went to large offshore wind farms in the North Sea and off the coast of China.

China took the lead as the largest investor in clean energy last year, pumping in US$110.5 billion in a bid to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power stations, which have contributed to the country's serious pollution levels.

The US came in second, with an investment of US$56 billion - an increase of 8 per cent from levels in the previous year.

Wind parks, solar farms and other clean energy producers will be getting US$6.9 trillion over the next 25 years from private investments, said a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of investors and environmentalists.

Even so, another US$5.2 trillion is needed to reach the goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 2 deg C, as agreed by 195 nations at the Paris climate change talks.

"For that, investment volume is going to need to more than double, and do so in the next three to five years," said Mr Liebreich.

"That sort of increase will not be delivered by business as usual. Closing the gap will be both a challenge and an opportunity for investors."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2016, with the headline 'Clean energy investment at all-time high'. Print Edition | Subscribe