Much of the surge was driven by a string of large offshore wind arrays in the North Sea such as the  580MW Race Bank and 336MW Galloper, with estimated costs of $2.9bn and $2.3bn respectively.

Europe as a whole saw investment fall by 18% to $58.5bn – its lowest figure since 2006. Germany invested $10.6bn, down by 42%, while France saw an even bigger fall in investment, of 53% to $2.9bn.

International picture

Globally, however, clean energy investment enjoyed a record year, reaching $328.9bn in 2015 – up 4% from last year and 3% from the previous record set in 2011.

Global clean energy investment 2004-15, $bn


China was again by far the largest investor in clean energy in 2015, increasing its dominance with a 17% increase to $110.5bn, as its government spurred on wind and solar development to meet electricity demand and limit air pollution.

Second was the US, which invested $56bn, up 8% on the previous year and the strongest figure since the era of the ‘green stimulus’ policies in 2011.

BNEF said the global spike was all the more remarkable given the presence of four key factors that could have been expected to limit investment: –

1) Further declines in the cost of solar photovoltaics, meaning that more capacity could be installed for the same price

2) The strength of the US currency, reducing the dollar value of non-dollar investment

3) The continued weakness of the European economy, formerly the powerhouse of renewable energy investment;

4) The plunge in fossil fuel commodity prices. Over the 18 months to the end of 2015, the price of Brent crude crashed by 67%, international steam coal delivered to the north west Europe hub dropped 35%, while natural gas in the US fell 48% on the Henry Hub index.

‘Stunning riposte’

Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “These figures are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices.

“They highlight the improving cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power, driven in part by the move by many countries to reverse-auction new capacity rather than providing advantageous tariffs, a shift that has put producers under continuing price pressure.

“Wind and solar power are now being adopted in many developing countries as a natural and substantial part of the generation mix: they can be produced more cheaply than often high wholesale power prices; they reduce a country’s exposure to expected future fossil fuel prices; and above all they can be built very quickly to meet unfulfilled demand for electricity.

“It is very hard to see these trends going backwards, in the light of December’s Paris Climate Agreement.”

The BNEF figures come in the same week that Barclays Bank has said global oil and gas companies planned to cut spending on exploration and production by as much as 20% in 2016.

Almost $200bn of the total investment figure was asset finance of utility-scale projects such as wind farms, solar parks, biomass and waste-to-energy plants and small hydro-electric schemes. 

After asset finance, the next largest piece of clean energy investment was spending on rooftop and other small-scale solar projects. This totaled $67.4bn in 2015, up 12% on the previous year, with Japan by far the biggest market, followed by the US and China.

Installation boom

Thanks to this utility-scale and small-scale activity, BNEF predicted that both wind and solar PV saw around 30% more capacity installed worldwide in 2015 than in 2014.

The wind total for last year is likely to end up at around 64GW, with that for solar just behind at about 57GW. This combined total of 121GW is expected to make up around half of the net capacity added in all generation technologies (fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable) globally in 2015.

There was also $20bn of asset finance in clean energy technologies such as smart grid and utility-scale battery storage, representing an 11% rise on 2014.

Government and corporate research and development spending, totaled $28.3bn in 2015, up just 1%. This figure looks set to rise following pledges from the public and private sector at COP21.

Brad Allen

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