Global investments in renewable energy up in 2011

The world is investing big money in clean energy sources, and for the first time since 2008, the United States has spent more money in renewable energy than China, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The report says that global investment in renewable energy rose 5 percent to a record $260 billion in 2011. In particular, U.S. spending on clean energy rose 33 percent to $55.9 billion last year, which brought the country's total expenditure on this sector ahead of China's $47.4 billion in investments. By comparison, China's economic commitment to clean energy increased only 1 percent from the previous year.

Worldwide spending on solar energy totaled $136.6 billion during the 12-month span, up 36 percent from 2010, according to New Energy Finance, while wind power received just $74.9 billion of funding, a 17 percent drop. The big increase in solar energy investments was largely due to a 50 percent decrease in photovoltaic panel prices, according to Michael Liebreich, the chief executive of New Energy Finance.

"Remember that for every equipment company operating at thin or negative margins, there is an installer who is getting a good deal," Liebreich said in a statement. "Rumours of the death of clean energy have been greatly exaggerated."

Liebreich said that spending on renewable energy in the United States rose mostly because of the now expired federal loan guarantee and Treasury grant programs. The Production Tax Credit, the only remaining federal program that supports clean energy, will also end after 2012 if an extension isn't passed.

Recent reports have also indicated that the United States has a vested economic interest in helping the environment. For example, a Synapse Energy Economics study that analyzed Kentucky's proposed Clean Energy Opportunity Act, found that increasing the amount of renewable energy projects in the state could lead to more jobs. If passed, the study indicated that the regulation could help create 28,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

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