Jonathan Pow/PA/AP

Study: Green energy drawing investment worldwide

Renewables account for more power generation than ever before, as 2013 saw lower costs and higher profitability

Renewable energy is generating a greater share of the world’s electricity than ever before, as costs fall and profitability rises, according to a report released Monday.

“The fact that renewable energy is gaining a bigger share of overall generation globally is encouraging,” said Achim Steiner, the U.N. under-secretary-general and executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

“To support this further, we must re-evaluate investment priorities, shift incentives, build capacity and improve governance structures.”

Green renewable energy sources include wind and solar power, biomass and biofuels, and geothermal and marine resources.

The overall amount of investment in renewables dropped $35.1 billion in 2013 but researchers cautioned that was partly due to falling costs 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.

Countries don't need to invest as much money in green technology to get returns, according to the report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014, by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Center for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, UNEP and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“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,” Steiner said.

Last year was the end of a nearly five-year decline in clean energy stocks, according to the report, as investors learned of lower costs and higher profitability in many solar and wind companies. 

China led global investment in renewables in 2013, beating Europe for the first time, according to the report. A solar boom in Japan led to an 80 percent increase in renewable energy investment there.

Without clean energy, which accounted for nearly half of new generating systems in 2013, last year's carbon emissions would have pushed the world 12 percent further away from the 2020 emission reduction targets scientists say are necessary to avert climate disaster.

“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,” Steiner said.

The results of the report should give governments the confidence to embark on plans to cut emissions by investing in renewables before the 2015 climate change conference in Paris, Steiner said.

The renewable market and cost reductions are out-pacing the impacts from reduced investments and government support, Nathanael Greene, director of the National Resource Defense Council's renewables program, told Al Jazeera.

Governments should be "doubling down on clean energy not just for its environmental benefits, which are urgently needed, but also for the economic development," Greene said. "The countries that win the clean energy race will control the future."

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