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Portrait of engineers on wind turbine at offshore windfarm
© Monty Rakusen/Corbis
RENEWABLES
14 January 2016 15:57

Analysis: Record UK renewable energy investment overtakes North Sea spend

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

01.14.16
Simon Evans

Simon Evans

14.01.2016 | 3:57pm
RenewablesAnalysis: Record UK renewable energy investment overtakes North Sea spend

A record £15.2bn was invested in UK clean energy last year, according to figures released today by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

A 24% year-on-year increase for renewables and plunging North Sea investments means renewables attracted more finance in 2015 than the estimated £11bn spent on UK oil and gas, Carbon Brief analysis shows.

Globally, a record $329bn was invested in clean energy despite persistently low oil prices. A year ago, many analysts thought cheap fossil fuels would harm the prospects for renewables as coal and gas became relatively cheaper to burn.

In a statement Michael Liebreich, BNEF chair, says:

These figures are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices. They highlight the improving cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power.

UK investment

BNEF says the record UK investment was partly down to large offshore windfarms securing finance last year, including the Galloper and Race Bank schemes, worth £1.5-2bn each.

You can see this reflected in the breakdown of investments by project type in the chart below.

UK investment in renewables and other clean energy between 2004 and 2015. Source: BNEF annual clean energy investment report.

UK investment in renewables and other clean energy between 2004 and 2015. Source: BNEF annual clean energy investment report. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Last year’s investment growth appears surprising, given the renewable energy cuts since the last election.

However, these cuts will take time to filter through as projects can take several years from inception to completion. Offshore wind is expected to see continued strong investment through 2016, for instance.

There may also have been a rush to commission projects before subsidy reductions take effect.

Renewables in context

The scale of these clean energy investments is hard to gauge without context. However, comparable and up-to-date figures for other types of UK energy investment are hard to come by.

Investment in renewable electricity was £28.9bn between 2010 and 2013, according to a July 2014 report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This figure matches BNEF’s.

DECC’s report says investment in the electricity grid and generation capacity totalled £45bn over the same 2010-2013 period. Renewables accounted for the lion’s share of investment. Electricity networks made up almost all of the remainder, with hardly any money spent on fossil electricity.

The UK’s coal mining sector is in terminal decline. In contrast, UK oil and gas output increased last year, after several years of strong investment backed by expanded tax breaks and allowances.

The latest economic report from trade group Oil and Gas UK says £14.8bn was invested in the North Sea in 2014, more than double the 2010 figure.

After oil prices plunged in late 2014 and remained at low levels through much of 2015, investment is expected to have been just £11bn during 2015, Oil and Gas UK says.

This pushes oil and gas investment below renewables, a reversal of the previous position.

UK investment in clean energy compared to North Sea oil and gas. The 2015 figure for the North Sea is an estimate. Sources: BNEF investment report, Oil and Gas UK economic report.

UK investment in clean energy compared to North Sea oil and gas. The 2015 figure for the North Sea is an estimate. Sources: BNEF investment report, Oil and Gas UK economic report. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Oil and gas investments are expected to fall further this year, as oil prices hit new lows. The prospects for clean energy are far more uncertain.

Main image: Engineers on an offshore wind turbine. © Monty Rakusen/Corbis.
Sharelines from this story
  • Analysis: Record UK renewable energy investment overtakes North Sea spend
  • A record £15.2bn was invested in UK clean energy last year, according to figures released today by Bloomberg New Energy Finance
  • A 24% year-on-year increase for renewables and plunging North Sea investments means renewables attracted more finance in 2015 than the estimated £11bn spent on UK oil and gas
  • Turboblocke

    Investment in fossil fuels is an increasingly risky business.

  • This is impressive, but whither the prospects for 2016 given new UK energy policy?

  • Forget about national policy. Fitting solar and making your own electricity is the cheapest way to power your house. Add up all your power bills for the year and see what the total is, then work out how much capital you need ,at current interest rates to earn that amount and then get a quote for solar. Then take out a loan and install it or take the money out of the bank.


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