The Clean Energy Race: Who is Winning?

In the past several decades, there is no question that the opportunity for investment in the clean energy economy has increased exponentially. In fact, the Pew Environment Group predicts that, if legislative policies are initiated by G-20 countries as expected, more than $2.3 trillion will be invested in clean power assets over the next 10 years. This will, no doubt, provide companies enormous opportunities to compete for investments, jobs and export markets.

In 2010, for the first time in decades, the renewable energy sector surpassed the nuclear energy sector worldwide. Global investments in wind energy reached $79 billion, a record level. Much of this growth has been credited to financial incentives for companies that adopt renewable energy sources from countries such as Germany and Italy.

The most current clean energy race numbers available are from 2010. As is to be expected, every type of clean energy, including solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind, saw an increase in usage from the G-20 countries. In total, the global investment in clean energy rose 30 percent in 2010, to a total of $243 billion. Conversely, the use of biofuels dropped significantly in 2010, with G-20 countries showing the lowest investment in the biofuel sector since 2005.

So, globally speaking, who’s winning the race to be the cleanest – energy wise?

Extending its continuing lead among the G-20, China increased its clean energy usage significantly. The total investment in clean energies made by the country increased 39 percent in 2010. Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program in Washington, called this increase “remarkable,” noting that the changes in China’s clean energy usage came mainly in the areas of wind turbines. In fact, China is now a world’s leader in the area of wind turbine and solar module production, surprising few experts in the field.

In a surprising turn of events, however, Germany overtook the United States in 2010 to become the second largest clean energy market in the world.

Whereas China’s goal is to establishing 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020, and the European Union has set the goal of generating 20 percent of its power from renewable resources by the same year, the U.S. lacks a similarly concrete goal. In 2009, President Barack Obama’s plan for producing 25 percent of the country’s electricity with renewable resources was nullified by Congress.

The president more recently turned his sights inward, announcing the Better Buildings Initiative with a goal of seeing a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020 in the U.S. If this exciting, yet perhaps lofty, goal is achieved, the country’s collective corporate energy bills would decrease by approximately $40 billion.

The country’s focus on saving green duly noted, the U.S. is still lagging behind in efforts to go green, while the rest of the G-20 speeds ahead in the race.

The irony of the U.S. being behind with its renewable energy goals lies in the fact that they are home to some of the best producers of clean energy technologies in the world.