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China unveils massive clean energy plan for 2013

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China unveiled its intention to step harder on the clean energy pedal last week when it announced its plan to add 49GW of capacity this year. As much as 18GW of new wind power and 10GW of solar installations has been proposed, with the balance being hydro power – large and small.

The world’s second largest economy wants to “develop energy in sync with the ecosystem, turning from excessive reliance on conventional hydrocarbon energy to more dependence on new and renewable energy,” according to a statement on the website of the National Energy Administration.

The country – the world’s largest carbon emitter – is also targeting a sharp reduction in its industrial carbon emissions per unit of value-added. According to a plan published on the website of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, emissions per unit would be reduced by 21% in the five years to 2015.

China emerged as a star performer in 2012 too, accounting for a quarter of the global investment total of USD 269bn in clean energy – the largest by any single country – according to the latest numbers released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It sprung back to the top position after being eased out in 2011 when the rush to catch stimulus-related benefits pushed the US to the number one spot. China invested a record USD 68bn in the clean energy sector in 2012 while the US managed an investment of USD 44bn.

Overall investment in clean energy declined 11% from a revised estimate of USD 302bn in 2011. This is the second recorded dip in investment since Bloomberg New Energy Finance started tracking investment trends in clean energy in 2004. The first was in 2009, when overall investment fell 2%. Against a backdrop of policy reversal in some countries and policy uncertainty in others, as well as the overall economic situation, it is encouraging that the decline is not bigger.

“Rumours of the death of clean energy investment have been greatly exaggerated,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The fall in the prices of solar and wind equipment also means that more capacity can be added per dollar of investment.

The fall was arrested somewhat by an increase in investment by countries hitherto off the clean energy map. Investment in South Africa, for instance, leapt to USD 5.5bn from a just a few tens of millions in 2011 while Japan ratcheted up a total of USD 16.3bn as it tried to rejig its energy mix following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Australia and Mexico also posted significant gains in investment year-on-year.

In terms of sectors, solar continued to be at the helm, accounting for over half the total investment, at USD 143bn. This was almost double the USD 78bn invested in the wind sector. The third largest sector was energy-smart technologies, which includes smart-grids, energy efficiency and electric vehicles. Investment in specialist companies, and in corporate and government research and development, in this area accounted for USD 19bn, although this was lower than in 2011. It was a similar story for other sectors like biomass-to-power, biofuels, geothermal and carbon capture and storage, all recording investments lower than the previous year. The only sector to show growth in investment was small hydro, which includes projects up to 50MW in size.

Coming back to 2013, US Senator Bernard Sanders is working on a climate bill – expected to be introduced mid-February – that could raise USD 1 trillion over 10 years by putting a fee on greenhouse gas emissions. This could then be used to make a “historic investment” in energy efficiency and renewables, according to an aide to the Senator.

On the flip side, the investments already made by the US Department of Energy will come under scrutiny as an electric car maker and an energy storage company – XP Vehicles and Limnia – filed complaints in two federal courts in Washington seeking damages for what they say were abuses of the USD 25bn Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan programme. “Defendants used the ATVM loan programme as nothing more than a veil to steer hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to government cronies,” according to the district court complaint.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

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