Clean energy set to be third largest industry

STANDING TALL  This Chinese turbine factory worker is benefiting from his country's clean energy technology boom.

STANDING TALL This turbine factory worker is benefiting from China's clean energy technology boom, up to 4th in the global sales league.

Clean energy technology is on track to become the third largest industrial sector globally with a rapidly increasing share taken up by China, a report from global conservation organisation WWF has predicted. 

Clean Economy, living Planet – Building strong clean energy technology industries, released today at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, is a first ever worldwide country ranking by clean energy sales, WWF says. Relative to GDP, Denmark and Brazil top the league for clean energy industries, followed by Germany.

The report predicts that by 2020 the industry will be worth €1600 billion (£1,450bn; US$2,355bn) a year, ranking behind automobiles and electronics as the third largest industrial sector. In 2007, clean energy technology had a sales volume of €630 billion and was already larger than the global pharmaceutical industry, the report says.

“This is the clean economy growth happening now with only a partial Kyoto protocol international framework supporting clean energy development, patchy national support for green energy and huge subsidies to fossil fuel use,” said Kim Carstensen, leader of WWF’s global climate initiative.

“Imagine what is possible with a successful Copenhagen climate deal and the national mechanisms to deliver its outcomes – clean energy is where the money is going to be and this is where energy security is going to be.”

The WWF report says governments can support domestic markets with subsidies, renewables targets and procurement policies. Countries that could benefit from such moves include the US, ranked 18 on the GDP weighted rankings and behind Germany even in absolute terms, and the UK, ranked 19.  Illustrating opportunities lost, Australia – which squandered an early technical lead in solar energy – is ranked 28.

China is ranked fourth in terms of absolute sales. “Clearly, from a national perspective there is much to gain and nothing to lose from investing in clean energy,” said Donald Pols, head of the climate programme at WWF-Netherlands. “Forgoing these opportunities for the sake of propping up an aging, polluting fossil fuel sector for as long as its lobbying power remains significant is acting for vested interests not the national interest.”

A report this week reinforces the message that China is a fast rising star in the clean energy technology stakes. The US-based Earth Policy Institute (EPI) notes: “Leadership of the global wind market is about to change hands.”

EPI states: “The United States—the birthplace of the modern wind industry – has held the top spot in new installations since 2005, growing at 50 per cent a year and adding a record 8,540 megawatts of wind generating capacity in 2008. But if the credit-crunched US industry adds only 8,000 megawatts in 2009, as anticipated, China’s new installations of some 10,000 megawatts will make it the world leader in annual additions.”

It adds: “Having doubled its installed capacity in each of the last five years, this relative newcomer is now poised to dominate the wind energy industry for years to come.”

According to EPI, Europe is by far the leading region in cumulative wind capacity, added 8,800 megawatts in 2008. It says traditionally Germany, Spain and Denmark – respectively getting 7, 12, and 21 per cent of their electricity from wind – have been the only major players in European wind development. But the market is quickly becoming more diverse, with Italy, France, and the United Kingdom leading a “second wave” of wind expansion.

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