Investment in renewable energy soars for first time in three years

Solar power is expected to reach price parity with coal-generated electricity by 2016

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Corporations and venture capitalists loved renewable energy last year, and will continue to embrace it this year.

That's the picture that unfolded from several new reports. According to Bloomberg Energy Finance, new funding for wind, solar, biofuels and other low-carbon energy technologies grew 16% to $310 billion last year. It was the first growth since 2011, erasing the impact of lower solar-panel prices and falling subsides in the U.S. and Europe that hurt the industry in previous years.

A new report from consultancy Mercom Capital Group showed that $26.5 billion was invested globally in renewable energy last year, a 175% year-over-year increase.

Last year was also a record year for public market or government financing, which accounted for about $5.2 billion in 52 deals in 2014, nearly double the previous year. In 2013, $2.8 billion was spent on 39 deals.

This year's investment picture for renewable energy looks to be bright as well.

"Healthy investment in clean energy may surprise some commentators, who have been predicting trouble for renewables as a result of the oil price collapse," Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board of the London-based Bloomberg Energy Finance, said in a statement. "Our answer is that 2014 was too early to see any noticeable effect on investment. The impact of cheaper crude will be felt much more in road transport than in electricity generation."

Solar financing costs Deutsche Bank

The cost to install and finance rooftop solar power is expected to contine to decline over the next several years, and then level off around 2019.

Demand for solar power grew 16% year-over-year in 2014, representing 44 billion watts (gigawatts) of capacity purchased during the year. Worldwide solar demand in 2015 is projected to be 51.4GW, compared with 39GW in 2014, according to a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

China, the United States and Japan will represent 57% of the overall uptick in solar demand in 2015.

Part of that growth is because the cost to deploy renewable energy has plummeted over the past few decades, and in many regions has achieved price parity with traditional energy generation.

Today, 10 U.S. states boast solar energy costs that are on par with those of conventional electricity generation methods, such as coal-fired power plants. Those states are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico and Vermont.

The average cost of solar panels has gone from $76.67 per watt in 1977 to just 61 cents per watt today, according to PVinsights.

The cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common coal or oil-powered generation in just two years -- and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper, according to Deutsche Bank's leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah.

In a just-released equity research report, Deutsche Bank noted that recent volatility in solar stocks, driven largely by oil price weakness, could make the industry attractive  for investors. Deutsche Bank expects 2015 to be a year of stable industry pricing and accelerating growth.

Global venture capital funding in the solar sector saw a sharp increase over the previous year with more than $1.3 billion raised in 85 deals. In 2013, $612 million was raised in 98 deals, according to Mercom Capital's report.

Solar venture capital funding in the fourth quarter of last year totaled $315 million in 16 deals, similar to the $326 million raised in the previous quarter, the report said.

Deutsche Bank reported that the U.S. rooftop solar market will be a key highlight and utilities will also start competing in the solar market.

Government policies will continue to improve for renewables -- solar, in particular -- given that anti-dumping duties imposed on Chinese modules by the U.S. last year are  expected to be removed this year, Deutsche Bank said.

Bloomberg predicted that installations for solar and wind power will grow about 10% this year.

The new investment data has eased industry concerns that the recent oil price collapse would lead to a sharp reduction in funds for low-carbon energy, Bloomberg reported.

"This increase in renewable energy investment demonstrates the resilience of the sector in the face of tumbling oil prices," said Ben Warren, head of environmental finance at the consulting firm EY. "This trend is set to continue as technology around renewables becomes more affordable. The increasing role that renewable energy plays in emerging markets will also help ensure sustainable growth for the sector."

price of solar power drop graph Bloomberg

The price of solar power has plummeted over the past four decades.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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