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Global Renewables Report Card, Map Highlight China

China remains in the world leader in renewable energy investments in three of the most important renewable energy sources — solar photovoltaic, wind and hydropower. 

The U.S. is now lagging behind China as investments in renewables over the last decade have increased dramatically, according to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report released Tuesday by the Paris-based Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, or REN21. Much of the world's money into these renewables is flowing from China, as the country looks for  could help slash poverty, expand economic development and solve air pollution problems, the report found.

Global sources of energy, 2012. Credit: REN21

Investments in renewables are an important indicator of trends in moving away from fossil fuel-intensive energy toward less-polluting energy sources that will help mitigate the effects of climate change. Investments rose steadily over the last decade, increasing from $39.5 billion in 2004 to $249.5 billion in 2012. But 2013 saw a drop in investments to $214.4 billion, though if hydrpower is included, the number jumps to $249.4 billion.

The drop in investments in 2013 occurred because of uncertainty over renewables incentives in the U.S. and Europe. In 2012, the U.S. saw a rush of wind power installation ahead of the expiration of the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit. In 2013, new wind power installation fell 90 percent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finanace, the source of some of the report's data. 

Despite the overall rise in investments, renewables remain a comparatively small source of energy, accounting for 19 percent of total global energy consumption in 2012. Fossil fuels totaled 78.4 percent of total energy consumption that year while nuclear power made up the rest of the total, with 2.6 percent, according to the report. 

While the report provides an update on the overall health of the renewable energy sector worldwide, REN21 also included an interactive map that illustrates the growth and expansion of renewables worldwide. Clicking on it sheds lights on solar, wind and hydropower investments and generating capacity by country over time.

The Renewables Global Status Report charts the continued rapid expansion of renewables worldwide in 2013, the year in which more solar photovoltaic power generation capacity was built than wind power generation capacity for the first time. Renewables were responsible for 56 percent of new additions to global power capacity last year. 

Renewable Energy Policy Network map showing countries that produce solar power from photovoltaic cells. Credit: REN21 Renewables Interactive Map

Global solar growth has averaged 55 percent each year between 2008 and 2013, according to the report. 

The report highlighted China as the world leader in renewable energy investments and renewable power generation capacity additions for hydropower, solar photovoltaic, wind power and solar water heating in 2013. Those additions make China the world's largest generator of renewable power. Despite these investments, fossil fuels, particularly coal, still dominate the Chinese energy landscape

The U.S. comes in behind China for overall investments in renewables as well as renewable power generating capacity. However, the U.S. also leads the world in concentrated solar power production capacity, biodiesel production and fuel ethanol production.

Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany round out the top five investors in renewables.

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