Led by the U.S., clean energy showing economic muscle worldwide, especially wind and solar

If there was any doubt about the financial viability of environmentalism, a new report published by Advanced Energy Economy shows that energy entrepreneurs not only are making dramatic progress in developing clean fuel alternatives, but they also are making money while doing it.

AEE's Advanced Energy Now 2015 Market Report released this week, which examines the economics of the alternative fuels business, shows the amalgam of industry players generated nearly $200 billion in revenues in 2014 in the United States alone - a 14 percent increase over 2013. Worldwide, AEE estimates, revenues from clean energy initiatives topped $1.3 trillion, making advanced energy a global industry "as big as apparel and almost four times the size of semiconductor manufacturing worldwide."

AEE is an association of investors, business leaders, designers, developers, manufacturers and servicers involved in developing alternatives to fossil fuels. It engages in public policy advocacy at all levels of government to remove obstacles to the use of non-traditional fuels and advancements in energy efficiency.

According to AEE's report prepared by Navigant Research, significant in U.S. economic gains in alternative fuels were wind energy developers, who went from $2.1 billion in revenue in 2013 to $8.2 billion in 2014; and solar power developers who saw 39 percent year-over-year growth to $22.5 billion. AEE said solar power has grown 173 percent in the last four years alone.

In the United States, approximately 4.8 gigawatts (GW) of wind power went online in 2014, representing $8.2 billion in revenue, up from just over 1 GW and just $2.1 bil­lion in revenue in 2013, which was down from the 2012 peak of $25.5 billion. This brings U.S. cumulative wind capaci­ty to 65.8 GW. Worldwide, the Chinese led in new wind power generation, adding 23.3 GW in 2014 to bring its total capacity to 114 GW.

Solar PV churned an estimated $90.3 billion in revenue with more than 10.0 GW each installed in China and Japan, and nearly 7 GW in the United States. The three countries account for more than half the global solar PV market.

Building energy efficiency advances

Equally impressive were gains in building energy efficiency. In the United States, building efficiency became the largest advanced energy segment with the addition of residential energy efficient lighting ($9.7 billion), bringing total segment revenue to $60 billion in 2014. The segment has grown steadily since 2011, up 43 percent over four years, according to the report.
In addition to lighting improvements in housing and commercial buildings:

  • Revenue from building envelop construction and renovation (foundations and insulation) was up 28 percent from 2011 to 2014.
  • Revenue from energy efficient homes reached $9.3 billion (up 29 percent).
  • Sales of smart appliances more than doubled to $465 million.
  • Net zero energy use buildings, $266 million.

The AEE report tends to debunk fossil fuel naysayers who maintain energy efficiency and clean energy alternatives are too expensive to develop and too exotic to implement to gain significant market share in a power-hungry world.

The report maintains that the wide variety of new fuels and efficiency programs being demonstrated around the globe - and the revenues they are producing - show that innovation and competition is thriving among those working to produce better energy technologies, products, and services. The report cites rapid advancement in electric and plug-in hybrid cars, high-performance buildings, energy-saving industrial processes, high capacity wind turbines, onsite and utility-scale solar power, and advanced nuclear power plants as examples of advanced energy.

About the Authors

Nathanael Greene

Director, Renewable Energy Policy, Energy & Transportation program

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