New data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) suggests that clean energy investments dropped by 11pc in 2012 due to factors such as regulatory uncertainty and policy changes, especially in big markets such as the US, Spain, India and Italy.
The research company said that a sharp reduction in prices for solar and wind technologies also had an impact on investment volumes.
The latest BNEF figures indicate that the US$268.7bn invested in the clean-energy space in 2012 was down from the US$302.3bn invested in 2011. Despite this, Bloomberg said that last year’s investment figure was the second highest ever for the clean-energy sector, and five times higher than 2004 figures.
The expansion of China’s clean energy portfolio, particularly around solar, led to investments totalling US$67.7bn there – a 20pc increase on 2011 figures. This means China has overtaken the US (US$44.2bn) for clean energy investments.
In Bloomberg’s analysis, investments in South Africa rose to US$5.5bn. The research firm said this surge in large project financings was as a result of South Africa’s tender process for wind and solar energy.
Clean energy investments in Japan also jumped by 75pc in 2012 to reach US$16.3bn. Bloomberg cited factors such an emphasis on renewable power following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 and the start of a new subsidy programme.
Drop in investments
As for countries that experienced falls in clean energy investments, BNEF said Italy’s 51pc drop in investment to US$14.7bn in 2012 was as a result of the impact of policy changes there on its solar photovoltaics (PV) boom.
Investments in Spain were down by 68pc to US$3bn, with BNEF blaming the government’s moratorium on subsidies for projects that are not yet approved.
Clean energy investment was also down by 44pc in India, with the research company pointing to the end of incentives for wind energy and fewer project approvals for solar energy being two contributing factors.
"We warned at the start of last year that investment in 2012 was likely to fall below 2011 levels, but rumours of the death of clean energy investment have been greatly exaggerated," said BNEF chief executive Michael Liebreich.
"The most striking aspect of these figures is that the decline was not bigger – given the fierce headwinds the clean-energy sector faced in 2012 as a result of policy uncertainty, the ongoing European fiscal crisis, and continuing sharp falls in technology costs. Solar PV module prices, for instance, fell another 24pc over the course of last year," he said.
Liebreich said that investment is also starting to expand rapidly into emerging markets, such as Africa, Kenya, Australia and Latin America from established markets, such as Europe, the US and China.
Solar dominated energy investment in 2012, with the sector accounting for US$142.5bn – down 9pc on 2011 figures. Up next was wind, with an investment of US$78.3bn, down 13pc on 2011 figures. The third-largest sector for investment last year was for energy-smart technologies, such as smart grid, energy efficiency and electric vehicles. In 2012, this sector experienced a 7pc drop to reach US$18.8bn.
Biomass and waste-to-energy was the fourth largest sector, at US$9.7bn in 2012, biofuels experienced a 38pc fall in investment to US$4.5bn, while geothermal experienced a 39pc drop to US$1.8bn.
BNEF said small hydro (projects of less than 50 megawatts) was the only clean-tech sector that showed growth in 2012. Investments in small hydro were up by 17pc to reach US$7.6bn in 2012.