Startups may have raked in cleantech venture capital in the first quarter, but big renewable energy projects struggled to raise cash. Global clean energy investment fell to $31.1 billion in the first three months of this year, its lowest quarterly total in two years, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported Friday. That’s down more than a third from a record $47.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010. While part of the big drop was due to a “hangover” from the record-high investments made in the last three months of 2010, it’s also based on some serious headwinds facing the industry. Solar power, for one, is being squeezed by an anticipated slowdown in feed-in tariffs and other government subsidies in big European markets such as Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, and U.S. wind power projects have been hit hard by falling prices for natural gas, which hit lows not seen since 2002, the report stated. What were the bright spots? The report identified Brazilian and Chinese wind power projects, with China spending $10 billion, or 25 percent more than the first quarter of 2010, and Brazil doubling its wind investment to $2.1 billion compared to the same quarter last year. China remains the leader in clean energy investment, with a 39 percent increase in to hit a record $54.4 billion last year. That was enough to give China the lead over the U.S. in installed renewable energy capacity, as well as retain its spot as the top manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels.
The United States’s energy policy paralysis has taken a toll on the country’s competitiveness in the race for green energy investment, according to a report out this morning from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Last year saw the U.S. drop from second to third in total clean energy investment with a total of $34 billion, according to the report. That’s less than the $54.4 billion invested by top-ranking China, and it’s also less than Germany’s investment of $41.2 billion last year, Corresponding figures from 2009 put China in first with $39.1 billion, the U.S. in second with $22.5 billion and Germany in third with $20.6 billion. Pew’s report blames the breakdown of clean energy policy in the U.S. Congress for the slip in rankings, although the country — and the world at large — still saw an overall increase in green energy investment from 2009 to 2010. The U.S. did remain on the top of the list for venture capital and private equity investment into green energy in 2010, however, with about $6 billion of the global total of $8.1 billion, according to the report. The U.S. also led the world in energy efficiency spending at $3.3 billion.
Hope springs eternal with every earnings call. That’s this morning’s news from the European green industry watchers at Reuters, who see some hints of positive earnings reports coming out in in the next couple of days from such greentech bellwethers as Norwegian solar group Renewable Energy Corp., Danish wind turbine maker Vestas and France’s EDF Energies Nouvelles. REC, which does silicon solar from raw materials to cells and modules, has predicted it will beat analysts predictions for fourth-quarter earnings, with a growing U.S. solar market making up for a drop-off in Germany. Vestas, for its part, is predicting fourth-quarter revenues to remain steady, despite an oversupply situation in the wind industry that’s seen turbine prices fall to five-year lows. As for EDF Energies Nouvelles, the green power wing of France’s dominant utility is expected to get a big boost from the French government’s $13.6 billion offshore wind plans.