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Who’s winning the clean-tech race?

You could be forgiven if you thought the European Union—historically a leader on low-carbon finance and policy efforts—would have a competitive edge in clean energy markets. But you would need to think again.


By Taylor Dimsdale

Total Investment in Clean Energy ($bn)

Sources: Bloomberg New Energy Finance; Xinhuanet (via E3G)

China is now investing over twice as much in clean energy as the EU. Yet as recently as 2007, the EU was investing more than four times as much in clean energy as China.

Sources: Bloomberg New Energy Finance; Xinhuanet (via E3G)

China compares favorably to Europe even when looking at the same figures on a per capita basis or as a percentage of GDP.

New Investment in Clean Energy 

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

While energy models show smooth investment transitions to low-carbon economies, the real world of infrastructure investment is characterized by boom and bust cycles, which can be disruptive. For example, the top 20 European energy utilities have lost half a trillion euros of value since 2008; meanwhile, China is planning a fivefold increase in clean-energy investment to 2020. A clean-energy investment bubble in major European economies over the past decade or so drove much of the growth of global low-carbon markets. But within the past few years, as clean-energy growth in emerging economies has picked up, there has been a significant dip in “green” investment in Europe.

If the past is any guide, the low-carbon transition will be a bumpy ride and other competitors will have plenty of opportunities to emerge. But China isn’t backtracking on its efforts to restructure its economy for more sustainable growth, including ambitious efforts on clean energy. China’s pledge to meet 20 percent of its energy needs with nonfossil energy by 2030, for example, will require China to deploy up to 1,000 GW of wind, solar, nuclear, and other zero-emission power-generation capacity by 2030—equivalent to Europe’s entire existing electricity-generation fleet. If another country wants to win this race, they’d better move fast.

Taylor Dimsdale is head of research at Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G)

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