While the normal story line is that the US lags behind the world on clean energy, that narrative is often exaggerated and was just wrong in 2011. The United States reclaimed from China in 2011 the top spot in global clean energy investment, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance at http://bnef.com/PressReleases/text/180.
But whether the US will remain number 1 or even competitive in the battle for clean energy markets beyond 2012 is uncertain, given strong attacks from Republicans in Congress on clean energy. The fate of the wind production and biodiesel tax credits and whether they are extended in 2012 will be a clear sign of what path the US will take. As used in the Bloomberg report, clean energy investment includes solar, wind, biomass, hydro, geothermal, and energy efficiency/smart grid.
The US boosted clean energy investment by 33% to 55.9 billion in 2011, while China invested 47.4 billion, up just 1% from 2010. This surge in US investment is part of the reason why US wind power has doubled since 2008, why solar capacity has increased ten-fold since 2008, why biofuel production is up sharply since 2008, and why energy efficiency is booming.
Since 2004 the world cumulatively has invested one-trillion dollars in clean energy, with the US, China, and Europe leading the way. Global clean energy investment in 2011 rose 5% to $260 billion. Joining China and the US as major investors, Europe invested 100 billion in 2011 alone.
More than 50% of the world's clean energy investment went to solar power. An amazing 136.6 billion, a 36% increase from 2010, globally was invested in solar during 2011. Wind energy ranked second, with 74.9 billion, a 17% decline from 2010. More had been invested in solar in 2004 and 2010 but the 2011 gap between solar and wind this year is unprecedented in size.
The 2011 US number 1 ranking in clean energy investment is made precarious, by both Republican congressional attacks on clean energy investments, and by China and other nations targeting clean energy markets and products. The competitive battle for clean energy products and markets is already intense and will intensify, as both India and Brazil, rising economic powers are sharply boosting clean energy investment. Whether the US competes or surrenders fast-growing clean energy markets to other nations may depend on the outcome of the 2012 elections.