Clean energy investment numbers for the first quarter of 2017 show a mix of performances across the cleantech sector.
Worldwide clean energy investments totaled $53.6 billion in the first quarter of this year, down 17 percent from the first quarter of 2016, and down 7 percent from the final quarter of last year, according to new figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). This downward trend comes after annual investments dropped by 18 percent from 2015 to 2016 — from a record high of $348.5 billion to $287.5 billion for the year.
Offshore wind financings have been a big weak spot in early 2017, falling 60 percent year-over-year to $4.6 billion from $11.5 billion in first quarter 2016. This coincides with a sharp drop in clean energy investments (down 91 percent to $1.2 billion) in the UK, where there are no new offshore wind financings following last year's bumper year.
The two biggest clean energy markets in the world, the U.S. and China, also saw investment numbers slip in the first quarter of 2017. The U.S. declined 24 percent year-over-year to $9.4 billion, while China was down 11 percent to $17.2 billion.
While these numbers appear to be all bad news, they're actually a bit misleading because the decline in technology costs lowers investment totals, while the number of project deployments and associated capacity continues to increase. As Jon Moore, BNEF chief executive, put it: “Q1 this year reflects, once again, the declines in average capital costs per megawatt for wind and solar. This trend means that year-by-year it’s possible to finance equivalent amounts of capacity in these technologies for fewer dollars.”
Furthermore, there were some particularly bright spots in the first quarter, such as Tesla's $1.4 billion in public market share issues. After passing Ford nearlier in the month, Tesla nudged past General Motors as the most valuable automaker as markets closed on Monday afternoon. Enel's estimated $650 million investment in its Villanueva photovoltaic complex in Mexico, a massive 754 megawatt project, was another positive development in Q1 2017. Overall, clean energy investments in Mexico were up 47-fold for the quarter at $2.3 billion.
Asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects was the largest type of investment for the quarter, totaling $39 billion, which is down 28 percent from the first quarter of 2016. Investments in small-scale solar projects under 1 megawatt were the second largest category of investment at $10.7 billion for the quarter, up 8 percent over the same quarter a year earlier.
BNEF analyst Abraham Louw noted that it was “a relatively quiet” first quarter for global clean energy investment, with ups and downs in different market segments. “But it’s too early to assume that 2017 as a whole will be lower than last year,” he said. In particular, BNEF is expecting to wind and solar deployments this year be as high or even higher than last year.
While several solar company stocks have taken a hit in recent months, public market investments in clean energy overall shot up 215 percent year-over-year to $2.1 billion. That's mainly due to cash calls by Tesla. BNEF notes the EV maker and PV systems integrator raised $977.5 million via a convertible issue, and another $402.5 million via a secondary share issue.
Venture capital and private equity funding of clean energy companies was also up in Q1, jumping 55 percent to $2.3 billion in Q1, thanks to string of medium-sized deals. That list includes $140 million for U.S. electric bus company Proterra, $130 million for U.S. solar service provider Sunlight Financial, and $100 million each for U.S. energy efficient window firm View and U.S. solar generator Orazul Energy.