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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can the Stimulus Lift the Clean Energy Sector Above the Economic Meltdown?

That's the question considered in the latest annual report on clean energy sector trends from Joel Makower and his colleagues at CleanEdge. With an unprecedented investment in clean energy in the stimulus bill passed by Congress last month, you'd think things were looking up for the sector. They are, Makower concludes, but when you're climbing out of the general meltdown gripping the U.S. economy, there's a long way to climb. As Makower writes:

The good news is that clean energy continues on a blistering rate of growth — increasing 53 percent from $75.8 billion in 2007 to $115.9 billion in revenues in 2008, based on our study of three key technologies: solar, wind, and biofuels. And the growth will continue. We forecast that by 2018, these three technologies will have revenues of $325.1 billion.

The bad news: The clean-energy sector faces considerable challenges moving forward. A sinking stock market continues to plague the initial public offering markets, with only a small handful of energy-related IPO listings on U.S. exchanges in 2008. This means that venture capitalists and other investors are faced with a dearth of exit opportunities for their current portfolio companies, making it harder for new companies to garner investments.

Severely tightened credit markets also began to take their toll. In late 2008 and early 2009, the extent of constrained credit became apparent, with a range of clean-energy companies delaying plans, laying off staff, or scuttling projects entirely.

As Makower writes, despite the challenges gripping the sector, overall trends in three core clean energy sectors - wind, solar and biofuels - look robust:
  • Solar photovoltaics (including modules, system components, and installation) will grow from a $29.6 billion industry in 2008 to $80.6 billion by 2018. Annual installations reached more than 4 GW worldwide in 2008, a fourfold increase from four years earlier, when the solar PV market reached the gigawatt milestone for the first time.
  • Wind power (new installation capital costs) is projected to expand from $51.4 billion in 2008 to $139.1 billion in 2018. Last year's global wind power installations reached a record 27,000 MW. In the U.S., which accounted for more than 8,000 MW, wind installations represented more than 40 percent of total new electricity generating capacity brought online in 2008 — and moved the U.S. ahead of Germany as the world's leading generator of wind energy.
  • Biofuels (global production and wholesale pricing of ethanol and biodiesel) reached $34.8 billion in 2008 and are projected to grow to $105.4 billion by 2018. In 2008 the global biofuels market consisted of more than 17 billion gallons of ethanol and 2.5 billion gallons of biodiesel production worldwide. For the first time, ethanol leader Brazil got more than 50 percent of its total national automobile transportation fuels from bioethanol, eclipsing petroleum use for the first time in any major market.
For more, check out the full report, Clean Energy Trends 2009 from CleanEdge.

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