Solar investments eclipsed all other forms of electricity generation in 2017 as China’s green boom accelerated.
Investors worldwide plowed a record $161 billion into solar energy last year, more than half the investment in all renewables apart from large hydroelectric projects, according to a report jointly published by the United Nations and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Total investment in renewables rose 2 percent to $280 billion.
In its bid to no longer be seen as the world’s worst polluter, China invested $127 billion in renewable energy last year. More than two-thirds of that was for 53 gigawatts of solar energy, enough capacity to power more than 38 million homes.
Renewables made up a record 61 percent of net power generation capacity added worldwide in 2017. Actual output from clean energy sources accounted for just 12 percent of electricity production, illustrating the gap that needs to be bridged before clean energy can overtake fossil fuels.
“The world added more solar capacity than coal, gas, and nuclear plants combined,” said Nils Stieglitz, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, which contributed to the report. “This shows where we are heading, although the fact that renewables altogether are still far from providing the majority of electricity means that we still have a long way to go.”
The costs of solar and wind energy have shrunk dramatically in recent years, making the economic case to transition away from carbon-intensive energy sources all the more compelling. Even though coal and gas are still the cheapest sources of electricity, that’s likely to change as soon as 2023, according to BNEF.
China, Australia and Sweden saw the largest increase in investment, which declined for markets that have historically led the way for renewables. U.K. investment fell by 65 percent while Germany’s slipped by more than a third.
Global emissions rose to a record last year in the first annual increase since 2014.
Other figures from the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report include:
- In 2017, $103 billion was invested in new fossil fuel generators while $42 billion went into new nuclear reactors, and $45 billion to large hydro dams
- Renewable energy investment in the U.S. was $40.5 billion, down 6 percent
- Developing economies accounted for a record 63 percent of global investment in renewable energy in 2017, up from 54 percent in 2016
- Europe’s share of world investment fell to just 15 percent in 2017, the lowest recorded since the data series began in 2004
- Renewable energy prevented the emission of 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2017