Investment in renewable energy technology is supposed to solve everything from high unemployment rates to global warming. In the US, candidates are battling over who is the "greenest" presidential contender, and unrest in the Middle East has fossil-fuel consumers constantly on edge. But the region that stepped up alternative-energy investments the most in 2011 was India.
According to the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization on energy, resources, and the environment, India's investment in solar and wind power increased by 52 percent from 2010 -- the highest growth rate for any single country.
Although total investments from developing countries -- which the Institute identifies as China, India, and Brazil -- lagged industrial nations, the sum reached $89 billion last year. Total new investments in renewable power and fuels reached $257 billion in 2011, with industrial nations accounting for $168 billion overall, the Institute reports.
The US and China are striving to become leaders in alternative energy technology and are embroiled in a trade battle over solar cells and panels. China continues to invest heavily in alternative energy, with $52.2 billion in new investments in 2011 -- the highest for any single country. In terms of the pace of growth, however, the United States scored a 57 percent increase over 2010 levels with $50.8 billion in new investment, outpacing all countries except India's 62 percent.
Other highlights from the report:
- Driven by 52 percent growth, solar technologies led all renewable energy investment by technology, taking over the top spot previously held by the wind sector.
- Investments in small-scale distributed generation power projects (with capacities of less than 1 megawatt) grew by 25 percent to $75.8 billion in 2011.
- Total R&D investment in renewable energy technologies fell 16 percent to $8.3 billion in 2011; investments in venture capital and private equity fell by 6 percent to $5 billion in 2011; while asset financing -- an indicator of current sector activity -- amounted to $164 billion in 2011, an increase from $139 billion in 2010.
- Initial trends from the first two quarters of 2012 indicate that investment in the renewables sector has fallen behind the impressive pace set last year.
Solar continues to be the leading contender in renewable energy and a key market for high tech. On the upside for consumers, costs to deliver alternative energies are dropping. That correlates to a downside for manufacturers of solar cells and related equipment, however, that are dropping prices to remain competitive.