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Big comeback for renewable energy stocks in 2013

Public market investors bullish on wind and solar

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Renewable sources accounted for 43 percent of all newly installed energy capacity in 2013, according to a new report from UN economists.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Renewable energy stocks made a big global comeback in 2013, gaining 54 percent after a 4.5 year slide during which they lost 78 percent in value, according to a new report released by economists in Frankfurt, Germany.

The improvement happened as many companies in the solar and wind manufacturing chains moved back towards profitability after a painful period of over-capacity and corporate distress, according to experts with the United Nations Environmental Program.

The 2013 improvements came despite a significant dip in investments in the renewable energy sector — the investment drop of $US35.1 billion was partly down to the falling cost of solar photovoltaic systems. The other main cause was policy uncertainty in many countries, an issue that also depressed investment in fossil fuel generation in 2013.

Excluding large hydropower projects, renewable energy accounted for 43.6 percent of  newly installed generating capacity in 2013. Without the new renewable energy sources, global CO2 emissions would have been up to  1.2 gigatonnes higher in 2013, increasing by 12 percent the gap between where emissions are heading and where they need to be in 2020 if the world is to have a realistic prospect of staying under a two degree Centigrade temperature rise.

“A long-term shift in investment over the next few decades towards a cleaner energy portfolio is needed to avoid dangerous climate change, with the energy sector accounting for around two thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP. “The fact that renewable energy is gaining a bigger share of overall generation globally is encouraging. To support this further, we must re-evaluate investment priorities, shift incentives, build capacity and improve governance structures.”

“While some may point to the fact that overall investment in renewables fell in 2013, the drop masks the many positive signals of a dynamic market that is fast evolving and maturing,” he added. “This should give governments the confidence to forge a new robust climate agreement to cut emissions at the 2015 climate change conference in Paris.”

Ulf Moslener, Head of Research of the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, agreed that the overall decline in investment dollars had been disappointing. However, he said, “foundations for future growth in the renewable energy market fell into place in 2013.”

“Lower costs, a return to profitability on the part of some leading manufacturers, the phenomenon of unsubsidized market uptake in a number of countries, and a warmer attitude to renewables among public market investors, were hopeful signs after several years of painful shake-out in the renewable energy sector,” said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The year marked a deepening involvement of long-term investors such as pension funds, insurance companies, wealth managers and private individuals in the equity and debt of wind and solar projects. Part of their new engagement was through clean energy bond issuance, which set a new record of US$3.2 billion raised in 2013, as well as via new types of financing vehicles including North American ‘yield companies’ and real estate investment trusts.

But the star performer among investment types in 2013 was public market equity-raising by renewable energy companies, which jumped 201 per cent to US$11 billion. This was the highest since 2010, spurred on by the rally in clean energy share prices and institutional investors’ appetite for funds offering solid yields.

Additional highlights from the report:

  • Last year was the first ever that China invested more in renewable energy than Europe. China’s total was down by 6 per cent at US$56 billion, while Europe’s dropped 44 per cent to US$48 billion. The US saw a fall of 10 per cent to US$36 billion. India moved 15 per cent down to US$6 billion and Brazil 54 per cent down to US$3 billion, the lowest since 2005.
  • The Americas, excluding the US and Brazil, increased investment in renewables by 26 per cent (to US$12 billion) in 2013. Japan’s solar boom helped to drive an 80 per cent increase in renewable energy investment to US$29 billion in 2013.
  • Installed solar jumped 26 per cent — from 31 Gigawatts in 2012 to a record 39 GW in 2013 even as investment in solar capacity decreased 23 per cent from US$135.6 billion to US$104.1 billion.
  • A trickle of significant projects — many of them in Latin America but others in the Middle East and Africa, are taking place in wind and solar without any subsidy support, or in preference to more expensive fossil-fuel options. Hydro-electric has for decades competed head-on with coal and gas. Now, in an increasing number of locations wind and solar are doing the same. For instance, in Chile a 70MW PV plant and three wind farms totaling 213MW have been constructed as merchant plants that compete openly on the spot power market.
  • Renewables excluding large hydro accounted for 8.5 percent of global electricity generation in 2013, up from 7.8 per cent in 2012, and have seen cumulative investment of over $1.5 trillion since 2006.

A short summary of key findings: http://bit.ly/1elvqWw

Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014 in full is available at http://bit.ly/QC1ssj.

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