China Solidly Leads Renewables

U.S. continues to muddle along

Bill Opalka | Jun 06, 2011

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China is maintaining its lead in the global renewable energy race while the United States continues to lag in second place, partly due to its uncertain policy commitments.

That’s according to Ernst & Young’s latest quarterly global “Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices.”

Countries around the world are increasingly broadening the scope of their renewable energy portfolios amid challenging market conditions.

“The picture for renewable energy this quarter has undoubtedly been mixed. Global events have had a significant impact on attitudes to renewable energy, with increased impetus in favor of renewables in Japan, the Middle East and a number of developing economies,” said Ben Warren, Ernst & Young’s environment and energy infrastructure advisory leader and author of the report. “Despite some momentum being lost in Europe largely as a fall-out of the economic crisis, the need for countries to diversify their energy mix and deliver security of energy supply suggests a continued robust outlook for the market.”

The U.S. is stuck in second place this quarter as the battle over the future of its clean energy policy continues. Utility scale solar (both PV and CSP) projects have remained healthy despite the uncertainty, but wind projects have suffered, particularly in the light of the continued suppression of natural gas prices.

China leads this trend and retains its top ranking in the Indices − a position it has held since August 2010. That position has been solidified in early 2011. The country has attained its highest ever score during this quarter, following increased support for the development of shallow water offshore wind projects and the release of the ”greenest” five year plan to date. The plan includes a target of 11.3 percent in primary energy generated by non-fossil fuels by 2015.

In the equities markets, solar companies have fared much better than their counterparts in wind.  Solar share prices appear to be weathering the current financial climate better than wind or biomass, gaining 40 percent since May 2010 despite the various feed–in tariff (FIT) reductions across Europe. Meanwhile, wind share prices have recently begun an upwards trajectory after losing 20 percent over the same period, the report states.

 “It is clear that the solar sector faces both challenges and growth opportunities. This is a good time for solar companies to continue to focus on cost reduction efforts, supply chain efficiencies, risk management and capital management,” said Gil Forer, head of Ernst & Young’s global cleantech group.

Overall, the market will experience growth due to the Chinese investment and some activities in the developing world. Ben Warren concludes: “The continued momentum in China and a number of developing markets promises to sustain overall growth in the sector, as the race for green collar jobs, energy diversity and economic growth continues. We might be seeing a temporary slowdown in investment activity as a result of declining levels of support for renewable energy in some markets, but cost reductions in some technologies an improved picture for the future.”

Where that leaves the U.S. in the short run is an open question.

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