There’s a growing gap between current investment in low-carbon energy and what’s needed to meet world demand while avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. The good news is there’s sufficient capital and investor interest to close much of this gap.
However, policies that encourage market certainty and level the playing field between different energy sources are needed to attract the volume of investment required, according to a special International Energy Agency (IEA) report, the World Energy Investment Outlook, released this month.
Large electricity consumers such as Apple or DuPont have limited options for directly purchasing green power. End-user consumers can’t easily contract with renewable power generators; they have to work through electric utilities who act as intermediaries. This gives utilities excessive market power as the only potential buyers in the green power market.
Based on a model proposed by WRI, Google set a new precedent in the green power market by committing to a long-term Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with an Iowa wind farm. This is the largest, longest-term wind deal ever closed in the country between a renewable generator and an electricity end-user, and was only possible because of its creative deal structure.
WRI has been actively engaging Green Power Market Development (GPMDG) companies, including Google, for several years to overcome barriers in the power markets and regulations that make it difficult for non-utilities to sign PPAs. Long-term PPAs are essential for renewable power generators, because they are needed to secure financing—yet the traditional model used by utilities is not suitable for electricity consumers.
WRI provided analysis and connections to technical experts that helped Google better understand the benefits of entering into long-term purchase agreements with wind developers. These long-term agreements help the wind developer secure more attractive financing than traditional short term purchase agreements do, while providing important price stability to the end user (the price of wind does not fluctuate). These contracts can be complex to structure and raise many technical and financial questions. WRI’s research helped Google find a workable approach to these contracts that can now be replicated in the market place. This model could increase the amount of wind power the commercial and industrial sector purchase.
The model created by the groundbreaking Google deal will open the door for private electricity consumers to sign long-term PPAs, creating a whole new stream of credit-backing and access to financing for renewable power generators.
The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters—the United States and China—have been forging a growing bond in combating climate change. Just last week, President Obama and President Xi made a landmark agreement to work towards reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas. And both the United States and China are leading global investment and development of clean energy. The United States invested $30.4 billion and added 16.9 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2012. China invested $58.4 billion and added 19.2 GW in capacity.
China’s Growing Overseas Investments in Renewable Energy
As new WRI analysis shows, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011). The United States is the number one destination of these investments, hosting at least eight wind projects and 24 solar projects. The majority of the investments went into solar PV power plant and wind farm development, while a few investments went into manufacturing or sales support.
It’s well-known that China ranks first in the world in attracting clean energy investment, receiving US$ 65.1 billion in 2012. But new analysis from WRI shows another side to this story: China is increasingly becoming a global force in international clean energy investment, too. In fact, the country has provided nearly $40 billion dollars to other countries’ solar and wind industries over the past decade.
China’s Overseas Wind and Solar Investments, By the Numbers
According to our research, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011), more than half of which were made in 2010 and 2011 (see Figure 1). Despite some gaps in the data that prevent us from generalizing about all of China’s wind and solar investments, we learned that:
Of the 54 investments for which financial data were available, the cumulative amount invested came to nearly US$40 billion.
China invested roughly US$10 billion in 16 wind projects and US$27.5 billion in 38 solar investments.
Of 53 investments with capacity data available, the cumulative installed capacity added was nearly 6,000 MW.
The majority of investments were in electricity generation. Several investments were made in manufacturing facilities and to establish sales and marketing offices.
Most of the investments were in developed countries. A huge amount went to the United States, as well as Germany, Italy, and Australia. A handful of developing countries—including South Africa, Pakistan, and Ethiopia—also attracted multiple investments.
As evidence of climate change mounts, President Obama has made it clear that tackling this issue will be a priority in his second term. Yet, as weeks go by, the administration has been slow to clarify its strategy. With each passing day, it becomes harder and more expensive to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, other global powers are moving forward--and many of them carry valuable lessons which American policymakers can look to. The most successful countries are showing national leadership, strong and consistent policies, and commitment to clean energy.
Where, then, are signs of progress on clean energy?
Germany’s Energiewende: Leading the Way
High on the list is Germany, whose ambitious energy transformation strategy--or “Energiewende”--aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 to 95 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. This will be achieved by enhancing energy efficiency, reducing primary energy consumption by 50 percent, and ramping up renewable energy to at least 80 percent of electricity consumption in the same time-frame.
Germany is in the midst of an unprecedented clean energy revolution. Thanks to the “Energiewende,” a strategy to revamp the national energy system, Germany aims to reduce its overall energy consumption and move to 80 percent renewable energy by 2050. The country has already made considerable progress toward achieving this ambitious goal.
In fact, other countries like the United States can learn a lot from the German clean energy experience. That’s why WRI is hosting a German energy speaking tour in the United States this week, May 13th-17th. Rainer Baake, a leading energy policy expert and key architect behind the Energiewende, and WRI energy experts will travel to select U.S. cities to share lessons, challenges, and insights from the German clean energy transformation. They will be joined by Dr. Wolfgang Rohe and Dr. Lars Grotewold from Stiftung Mercator.
Shifting to a low-carbon economy will require current emitting countries and projected future emitters to rapidly scale up their investments in renewable energy. By some estimates, China is already the leading global investor in renewable energy infrastructure, and is increasing its overseas...
America is blessed with abundant energy sources, from an array of traditional fuels and natural gas to solar, wind, and other renewable resources. But as the pressure on these resources grows, the United States must have a plan to ensure a stronger and more sustainable future. In today’s world, any smart and effective energy strategy must take into account the risks of climate change.
Climate change impacts are already here. They do not have a political affiliation, nor are they constrained by state boundaries. Moreover, climate impacts are taking a serious toll on America’s infrastructure and economy.
Let’s look at some examples:
America’s coastal areas are particularly vulnerable, as rising sea levels and heavier precipitation are increasing the impacts of hurricanes and other storms. More than 58 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, some $8.3 trillion, is generated in coastal areas (including the Great Lakes). This accounts for some 66 million jobs. Florida, in particular, faces significant threats due to rising seas.
Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed a remarkable period of economic and human development: More than 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water; life expectancy has increased by approximately five years; more children are going to school, with 90 percent enrolled in primary education; and per capita income levels have doubled across developing countries.
China has experienced an even more profound transformation during this period. The country has sustained an annual GDP growth of around 10 percent. Five hundred million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. People's lives have visibly improved and there are more opportunities for them.
Yet, many challenges remain. With the world's expanding population, rapid economic growth, and booming middle class, the pressure on natural resources is mounting. The truth is the world is on an unsustainable path.
China is part of this problem, but it also must be part of the solution. China faces real challenges when it comes to the environment and natural resources. Demand for water is rapidly outpacing supply, with food, energy, and domestic use intensifying for this scarce resource. The need for affordable and clean energy is on the rise. China's rapidly expanding urban population is having a significant impact on transportation, energy, and water infrastructure.