China Extends Lead in Making Clean Energy Investments, Pew Says

China extended its lead in renewable energy investments last year, and Germany overtook the U.S. to become the second-largest market for clean technologies including solar, wind and biomass generators, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Global investment in clean energy surged 30 percent last year to $243 billion, more than 90 percent of which went to power projects and companies in the 20 largest economies, Pew said in a report based on Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

The data show that the U.S. is increasingly being left behind as other countries make clean energy investments a national priority, Pew said today.

“China’s surging growth is nothing short of remarkable,” Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program in Washington, said in an interview. “It should be a gigantic worry for the U.S. -- just three years ago we were first.”

China’s dominance in clean energy was fueled by a 39 percent increase in investment to a record $54.4 billion last year. That made it the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar modules, and helped it to overtake the U.S. in terms of installed renewable energy capacity.

Financial incentives for renewable energy, such as feed-in-tariffs in Germany and Italy, as well as targets that require higher production, helped the industry surpass installed nuclear capacity for the first time in decades.

Government Goals

China has set a goal of installing 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020, and the European Union wants to generate 20 percent of its power from renewable sources over the same period.

In the U.S., 30 states have policies requiring utilities to buy an increasing amount of their electricity from renewable sources. While the federal government has incentives to reduce project costs, there’s no nationwide mandate for clean energy.

Solar power investments jumped 53 percent in 2010 to a record $79 billion, leading to 17,000 megawatts of new capacity globally, or enough for about 14 million homes. For wind, 40,000 megawatts of capacity were installed, with $95 billion in investments.

That helped to increase renewable energy installations at the end of last year to 388,000 megawatts worldwide, or enough for about 310 million typical American homes. That compares to 377,000 megawatts of nuclear energy capacity at the end of 2010.

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