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Renewable energy surpasses fossil fuel investment

9th Dec 2011

Investments in renewable energy projects - including solar power - have surpassed those in fossil fuel power plants for the first time in history, according to new research.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), $187 billion was invested in renewable energy installations last year - $30 billion more than that invested in new natural gas, oil and coal plants for the period.

"The progress of renewables has been nothing short of remarkable," United Nations Environment Program Executive Secretary Achim Steiner told BNEF at the recent climate change conference in South Africa.

"You have record investment in the midst of an economic and financial crisis."

Government and renewable energy subsidies played a large part in encouraging investment in the sector - approximately $66 billion in grants were handed out last year.

An increase in production and accelerated installations intensified competition between manufacturers, ultimately making clean energy more competitive with coal.

"The zeal to replace fossil fuels, which take millions of years to form from dead organic matter, belies the failed efforts at the UN talks to broker a deal that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal and oil blamed for global warming," BNEF explained.

Without a deal, existing pollution caps under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expire next year.

According to the recent data, global solar installations will total 26.4 gigawatts this year - up from 18.2 gigawatts last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy.

Predictions for the future expect global solar to reach 27.8 gigawatts in 2012, while investment in renewable energy could double to $395 billion a year by 2020.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has also recorded the trillionth dollar of investment in renewable energy, efficiency and smart technologies since its records started in 2004.

"Like the recent birth of the world's seven billionth baby, it is impossible to pinpoint with certainty the one trillionth dollar of investment," the research provider said in a statement (December 6).

"However it is almost certain it took place during the last two weeks of November, probably somewhere in the developing world."

According to BNEF, one of the projects that could have potentially earned the trillionth-dollar title was the 125 megawatt Ouarzazate solar project, which the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy received debt financing for to develop phase one of the scheme. 

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar correspondent

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