Developing countries begin to take lead in green energy growth

6 November, 2014

The growth rate of wind farms and solar plants in China, India and an array of smaller developing countries is starting to outpace that in many of the world’s richest nations.

Companies such as China’s Yingli and Trina Solar, two of the world’s largest solar-panel makers, and Indian wind turbine group, Suzlon Energy, are helping drive a major shift in green energy use, a year-long study of developing countries’ energy use suggests.

Until recently, it has been widely thought that poorer countries could not afford these newer types of green energy technologies and would have to keep relying on dirtier, fossil fuel systems such as coal power plants and diesel generators.

But the study found that the amount of new clean energy in the 55 countries studied, which ranged from China, the most populous nation, to tiny Belize and Barbados, has grown at an average of 19 per cent a year since 2008, compared with 13 per cent in the OECD group of rich nations over the same period.

The 55 countries added 142 gigawatts of new renewable energy generating capacity – more than the total current capacity of France – between 2008 and 2013.

These figures did not include big hydropower dams which have traditionally been a leading source of green energy in developing countries but can take decades to build.

It can take as little as two years to build a wind farm; six months to erect a large solar plant and a day to put a solar panel on a roof. The short timescales are why such systems make sense in energy-hungry developing economies, says the Climatescope report done for a group of development agencies by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm.

“These technologies are poised to make an immediate impact on energy supply and access in the developing world,” says the report, which ranked the 55 nations according to which were most open to clean energy investment.

China topped the list in part because, even though its role as the world’s factory has made it the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, it is also the largest manufacturer of wind and solar equipment.

Chinese companies accounted for six of the world’s 10 largest solar panels makers by production last year, as well as five of the top 10 wind turbine manufacturers, including Goldwind and Guodian United Power, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

But the 10 top ranked countries identified in the report included some less obvious candidates, such as Kenya, which has made big strides attracting investment in geothermal power, and Uruguay, where reverse auctions for clean power attracted $1.3bn in new renewable energy financing last year.

The economic case for renewables is especially compelling in the many developing countries that rely heavily on diesel generators, the report says, a dependence that means some of the poorest countries have the most expensive electricity.


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