In this decade, the story of humanity’s search for a sustainable energy economy has its focus as much in the developing world as in the advanced nations. The explosive industrialization of China, India, Southeast Asia, and Latin America increase the global demand for energy by leaps and bounds; even as the supply of oil tightens and the cost and environmental hazard involved in further fossil-fuel exploitation increase.
While the transition of the U.S., Europe, Canada, Japan, and other advanced economies to renewable energy is also very important, the path to development pursued by poorer countries may in the end be more so, as they house the majority of the world’s population and so the majority of its potential energy demand.
According to a report in the Energy Industry Times, developing economies invested more into renewable energy in 2010 than developed economies did, sparking a global 32 percent increase in renewable energy investment. The Times referred to a report for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the increase in global investment is also attested to by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to the report for UNEP, developing countries invested $72 billion in renewable energy in 2010 compared to $70 billion in advanced economies.
More than half of the investment for the year occurred in China. However, strong growth was also shown in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. India’s investment in renewable energy increased 25 percent in 2010. A story in REW details positive developments in Latin America.
The price of solar panels has dropped sixty percent or more over the past three years, making investment in solar power more attractive and spurring much of this development. Wind energy still dominates global investment in renewable energy, but solar power is quickly catching it up.
So we’re seeing a fair amount of good news. At the same time, there’s no reason to be overconfident, as a REW report on the developing trade controversy between China and the U.S. over solar panels illustrates. Conflicts between economic interests in developing and advanced nations could act to derail a lot of this progress by increasing the price of solar panels and other renewable energy technology.
Despite this, prospects are certainly better than they have been in the recent past. It appears that the technologically-drive drop in costs for renewable energy has finally crossed with the rising price of fossil fuels to make green energy more attractive than ever. It will need to be in order for the third world to develop its economic potential in a way that permits a sustainable world to emerge.
image credit: JN Stuart on flickr