Global investment in renewables soared in 2014, proving that plunging oil prices will not stop the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies.
Figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show that new funds for wind, solar and other low-carbon energy technologies grew 16% to $310 billion last year.
This growth was led by a surge in solar, with investment in this sector rising 25% to $149.6 billion and the trend looks set to continue into 2015 with BNEF predicting that installations for solar and wind power will grow around 10%.
Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said:
Throughout last year, we were predicting that global investment would bounce back at least 10 per cent in 2014, but these figures have exceeded our expectations.
Those denouncing renewable energy sources as too expensive will also have to get off their soapboxes in 2015 with Deutsche Bank predicting that solar will be at grid parity in most of the world by the end of 2017.
Previous reports have shown this is already reality in Italy, Spain and Germany, while onshore wind is now the cheapest form of new electricity generation in Denmark.
China won the investment race in 2014, with a record $89.5 billion invested (up 32% on the previous year), while the US came in second with $51.8 billion. Japan and Canada also saw increases of 12% and 26% respectively.
But it is not only developed countries that are shifting their money into renewables. South Africa saw a 5% increase, and Brazil logged a massive 88 per cent increase in its investment, reaching $7.9 billion.
India also saw an increase in investment in 2014, reaching $7.9 billion – up 14% compared to 2013, while
Commentators optimistic that US president Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to India could see even greater progress on climate action and solar in the world’s second most populated country, while a partnership between energy companies in the two countries could see India’s largest ever solar plant built.
Despite a record year for wind in many countries across Europe, their investment lagged behind on investment, with just a 1% increase on the previous year.
While countries across the globe have been quick to take advantage of the momentum building around the clean energy transition, those failing to get on board are increasingly being left in the dust in the renewable energy race.
Australia stood out from the crowd last year, as plunging clean energy investment put the country behind some of the world’s smallest economies such as Honduras and Myanmar in the rankings.
BNEF warned that Australia had become “univestable” for large-scale projects, where an 88 per cent slump was seen in investment, taking it to its lowest levels since 2002.
Overall, clean energy financing dropped to its lowest level since 2009, with small-scale projects offering a lifeline for the country last year.
In the latest move signally the growing force of the divestment movement, 300 Stanford university professors have called on the university to completely rid itself of fossil fuel investments.
In a letter to Stanford’s president, John Hennessy and the board of trustees, the professors – which included Nobel laureates and this year’s Fields medal winners – urged the government to act on both the moral and scientific case for fossil fuel divestment.
The letter reads:
¨When it comes to the future our students will live to see, there is a scientifically documented, morally clear, technologically innovative right thing to do: divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in a sustainable future.¨
In one of the biggest wins for the divestment movement, Stanford University – which controls a $21.4 billion endowment – announced it would cut its ties with coal companies in May 2014.
Within months of this announcement, however, the university had put more money into oil and gas operations.
Today’s letter calls on Stanford to go further than its earlier commitment and cut its ties with all fossil fuel companies, not just coal.
“The urgency and magnitude of climate change call not for partial solutions, however admirable; they demand the more profound and thorough commitment embodied in divestment from all fossil-fuels companies,” the letter says.
The alternative – for Stanford to remain invested in oil and gas companies – presents us with a paradox: if a university seeks to educate extraordinary youth so they may achieve the brightest possible future, what does it mean for that university simultaneously to invest in the destruction of that future?
The letter supports an online petition run by Fossil Free Stanford that calls on Alumni, Parents, and Staff to urge the university to fully turn its back on dirty energy.
While acknowledging the “ground-breaking” victory of the May 2014 decision to end coal investments, Stanford students are also urging the university to take its commitment further.
The campaign is one of over 300 fossil fuel divestment campaigns currently being run on university and college campuses around the world, as well as in over 100 cities and religious institutions globally.
According to the world’s leading climate scientists, if the world fails to tackle rising fossil fuel emissions, it could breach the internationally agreed global warming danger threshold of 2C within just 30 years.
With this growing awareness that most of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves must stay unburned to avoid catastrophic climate change, the divestment campaign doubled in size last year.
What started with a few US universities has grown into institutions with a combined asset size of more than US $50 billion pledging to ditch their holdings in fossil fuels.
In one of its most high-profile wins, last September, the heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune withdrew their $860m philanthrophic fund from investments in tar sands, coal, and oil.
Other high profile individuals such as Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, have also chosen to divest, while the movement has seen successes across cities; faith groups, such as the Quakers; medical institutions, such as the British Medical Association; academic institutions in the US, Australia and Europe; and pension funds.
As it spreads far and wide across the globe, it is no surprise that the fossil-free movement has taken the title as fastest growing divestment movement in history, and the campaign remains at the forefront of a burgeoning movement of people around the world who are taking to the streets to challenge institutions and governments and demanding strong climate action.