Green Energy Slipping: Renewable Growth Slow In Rocky 2012

By Zach White , Feb 28, 2013 03:18 PM EST

Leading professional services corporation Ernst & Young released its February 2013 report on the state of renewable energy across the globe with a mixed outlook: Green energy is still growing, although not as fast in 2012 as in 2011. Asia is whupping the west. And large corporations are trying to be the good guy, increasing their spending in renewable energy sources and efficiency more than most governments.

Near the beginning of the dense 40-page corporate pile of information, the EY writers explain the shortfall experienced in 2012.

They cite a figure from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, saying a total $149 billion was invested in “utility-scale renewable energy investment plants“ in 2012, which was over $30 billion less than 2011’s $180 billion, “but still a very respectable total.”

Of that number, the smallest drops came from the largest and most popular industries, like solar and wind, which fell nine percent and 13 percent respectively.

The lesser-known renewable industries fared much worse. The biomass and waste-to-energy portions fell by 27 percent, mostly because people don’t know what they are. The most popular format right now is based on molding agricultural leftovers into wood pellets that can be burned like coal, but are more sustainable, without having to blow up mountains or poison streams.

But it’s just not sexy enough for most investors. They want to stick with what they know.

While the U.S. was number one in solar development in 2012, Asia took many of the wider honors, as EY describes China as the only country with the capital right now for the kinds of investments required to really take these fields. Chinese photovoltaic plants going up in Turkey are cited as evidence of China's growth outpacing even its domestic production ability.

Some of the best news in the report comes from a turning point in corporate America, where some of the largest companies in the country are finally coming around to cost-saving measures that result in increasingly affordable renewable energy.

One cited study follows McDonalds’ investing $11,000 per store in the UK since 2007 in energy efficiency, which paid for itself in two years and “represents the same bottom line benefit as a 5% increase in sales.”

Walmart joined a steel company in Mexico for a 15-year partnership on a 164MW wind farm.

“Nike, HSBC, Volkswagen, Nestle, BT, Mitsui, PepsiCo, Cemex, Renault, Sumitomo, BMW and Apple — are but a few of the brands moving into this space,” the report says.

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