Clean Energy Growth Stalls With Loss of Incentives

4,002 8 Loading


The question about coal power isn’t whether it can be made clean — it can’t, according to a recent National Geographic cover story and the vast majority of environmental advocates — but whether it can be made clean enough to provide power as the world transitions to renewable energy sources without triggering an ecological disaster before we get there.

Given increasingly frantic alarms about climate change from reputable organizations including NASA and the United Nations along with human cardiorespiratory health data from the World Health Organization, the transition to clean energy needs to gather speed, fast. Yet, in 2013, the addition of renewable capacity slowed slightly compared to the previous year as a result of shrinking governmental incentives and investment, according to a new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

While the survey found that renewable energy still relies on public incentives, it also suggested that at least parts of the industry are not as dependent as they once were on such incentives, thanks to falling prices.

"renewable energy, wind power, solar power, While there was an overall decline in investment, there are signs that the sector is reaping the rewards of becoming a more mature industry. Prices for technologies continue to drop, making them increasingly competitive with conventional power sources,” Phyllis Cuttino, director of the nonprofit’s clean energy program, said in a news release.

As incentives phased out in Europe and the United States, new installation of renewable energy in the developed world slowed, in some places dramatically. But renewable energy gained steam in the developing world, where distributed generation systems are seen as a more affordable alternative to conventional transmission infrastructure, Cuttino said.

The end of long-standing feed-in tariffs in Germany played a major role in the drying up of funding among developed nations. But Japan bucked the trend of the rest of the developed world. Moving aggressively to build non-nuclear energy sources in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, it saw an 80 percent jump in investment, according to the report.

China remained the largest single market for renewable energy, accounting for $54.2 billion of $254 billion total investment. The Asian giant has begun to use more of its own renewable energy technologies, adding roughly 8 gigawatts of solar and 14 gigawatts of wind capacity.

global-capacityThe United States was the second largest site of renewable energy investment.

Solar power had a much better year in 2013 than wind power. As prices fell, new capacity grew by nearly 30 percent, or 40 gigawatts, worldwide even as investment fell by nearly a quarter. More solar capacity was added in 2013 than in the nine years from 2001 and 2010.

In 2013, for the first time, more solar than wind energy was installed globally as wind saw installations fall even as investment held steady. Global installations fell 40 percent, led by a devastating 90 percent slowdown in the United States spurred by stalled renewal of a production tax credit.

On the bright side, the United States added a record amount of new solar capacity—more than 4.3 gigawatts—thanks to the completion of a number of less-expensive utility-scale plants.

Although investment shrunk overall, investors showed growing interest in energy efficient and low-carbon technologies, including everything from smart meters to energy storage mechanisms, boosting financing 15 percent.

A major Stanford University project argues that it's both financially and technically feasible to have 100 percent renewable energy worldwide by 2050.

Photos: Gencho Petkov /,  Andrew Barker /, Pew Charitable Trusts

Cameron Scott

Cameron received degrees in Comparative Literature from Princeton and Cornell universities. He has worked at Mother Jones, SFGate and IDG News Service and been published in California Lawyer and SF Weekly. He lives, predictably, in SF.

Discussion — 8 Responses

  • Richard Cook April 12, 2014 on 1:39 pm

    “…whether it can be made clean enough to provide power as the world transitions to renewable energy sources without triggering an ecological disaster before we get there.” — The ecological disaster is already underway. Which part of the IPCC report did you guys not read? The ice is melting, lots of methane lurks underneath, climate is changing already and the process is accelerating. Oh, but let’s not have a ripple in the economy, since the super-wealthy depend on their investments to build their monuments to themselves.

  • Quantium April 14, 2014 on 1:46 am

    This may be a proposal worth following:
    They are trying to build something similar to feed in tariffs that will work on a world wide basis.

  • Eray Ozkural April 14, 2014 on 10:40 am

    I posted this on Scientific Transhumanism group on facebook, and we were immediately attacked by tea party trolls. It is very interesting that these idiots still persist on the net, maybe they are still getting money to assault AGW related news.

    • Cameron Scott Eray Ozkural April 14, 2014 on 11:45 pm

      Eray, Yes, the anti-climate change commenters on the web appear to be organized in a way that suggests payment. But we thank them for the traffic nonetheless.

    • Kevin McCann Eray Ozkural April 19, 2014 on 6:36 am

      All things happen as you would expect. You must understand human social behavior in this modern world. A great error was made on climate change’s introduction, causing unnecessary disbelief.
      The climate issue was introduced to the average Americans in a very political, non-scientific way via Al Gore, the most divisive political figure of the time, him having lost the presidency. All solutions offered happen to fit (in the minds of the Right) with the Lefts long agenda, i.e. raising taxes, punishing evil corporations, more control by government, population control, putting down America, and making Al gore richer. Nuclear power was dismissed. The possibility of error was dismissed. All non-believers were ridiculed as political, religious, anti-science neanderthals. The Right assumes research money is proportionally not given to non-believers so they say the research is biased.
      Human social behavior is predictable. If you start a fight, you get a fight. Of course the Right does not want to believe this. The question is: how do you change it? I think if your attacked by trolls you should kindly answer questions without being demeaning; and understand that, as a scientist, that you could be in some error on some points.
      The Left still has the full intent of continuing to use this for political purposes, and the Right knows it. The planet suffers because of the blind quest for power on both sides. We will change behavior when it appears that it pays to change. It will take marketing and understanding.

  • jambo April 20, 2014 on 12:02 am

    Does this blog have any interest in next generation nuclear such as Terrestrial Energy’s Denatured molten salt reactor (DMSR) or the Liquid Fluoride Molten Salt Reactor (LFTR) that the Chinese government (and Flibe Energy in the US) are trying to build?

  • Robert Schreib May 28, 2014 on 10:59 pm

    Dear Sirs, To fight global warming, have the United Nations create ‘The Global 50/50 Lottery’, the world’s first honest global lottery, to raise the massive funds needed to buy clean electricity generating wind, solar, ocean and water systems, to replace the electricity from our coal burning electric power plants that are emitting the carbon dioxide which is causing global warming. Remember, human greed is like a force of nature that can move mountains. If we can exploit it to fight global warming, we just might beat it!