New data for the Q1 2018 show an initial drop in investment for clean energy

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Clean energy investment was US$61.1bn in Q1 2018, down 10% year-on-year however there were pockets of strength. Developing countries were prominent in clean energy investment in the first three months of 2018, with China once again accounting for more than 40% of the world total, along with eye-catching projects reaching financial close in Morocco, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico.

The latest quarterly figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) show global clean energy investment at US$61.1bn in Q1 2018, down 10% on the same period last year.

The quarter to the end of March saw solar investment slip 19% to US$37.4bn, affected both by weaker activity in some markets and by lower unit prices for PV systems. BNEF estimates that benchmark global dollar capital costs per MW for utility-scale solar PV have fallen 7% in the last year.

BNEF expects the world to install even more solar in 2018 than last year’s record of 98 GW. Two of the main drivers are the ongoing boom in China for both utility-scale and smaller, local PV systems, and the financing of very large solar parks in other developing countries as cost-competitiveness continues to improve.

The biggest solar project reaching financial close in the early months of 2018 was the 800 MW Noor Midelt complex in Morocco, made up of a mix of PV panels and solar thermal systems with storage. Development banks including KfW of Germany and the European Investment Bank have agreed to fund the complex, which is likely to cost around US$2.4bn.

The largest conventional PV installations financed in Q1 were the 709 MW NLC Tangedco solar project in India, at an estimated US$660m, and the 404 MW Acciona and Tuto Energy Puerto Libertad project in Mexico, at US$493m.

Wind investment showed a rise of 10% in Q1 to US$18.9bn, while biomass and waste-to-energy declined 29% to US$679m. Geothermal rose 39% to US$1bn and small hydro-electric projects of less than 50 MW attracted US$538m, down 32%. Companies specialising in energy-smart technologies such as smart meters, energy storage and electric vehicles attracted US$2bn, down 8%. Biofuels staged a recovery, with investment up 519% year-on-year to US$748m, thanks to the financing of two US ethanol plants.

Looking at the geographical split, China dominated yet again, investing US$26bn in clean energy in Q1, although this was down 27% from a hectic first quarter last year. The US saw investment of US$10.7bn, up 16%, while Europe suffered a 17% decline to US$6bn, reflecting an absence of German and UK offshore wind deals. India saw investment rise 9% year-on-year to US$3.6bn, while Japanese outlays fell 54% to US$1.4bn.

Country highlights included Vietnam, where the financing of wind projects helped its Q1 investment tally to US$1.1bn, a quarterly record; and Mexico, where continuing activity in both solar and wind pushed up its total by 3% year-on-year to US$1.3bn. The financial close on a 91 MW geothermal project in Indonesia helped that country’s total of US$757m in Q1 2018.

The global Q1 figures are the lowest for any quarter since Q3 2016 but, according to BNEF, it is too early to predict a fall in annual investment this year. For instance, BNEF expects to see the financing of a number of big-ticket offshore wind projects in UK, Belgian, Dutch and Danish waters during the months ahead.

Breaking investment down by type, Q1 saw a 16% fall in the asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects worldwide, to US$44.3bn, but there was a 16% rise to US$14.3bn in the funding of small solar systems of less than 1 MW.

Public markets investment in specialist clean energy companies plunged 75% to US$509m, the lowest in any quarter for two years. Venture capital and private equity investment was much more impressive, climbing 65% to US$2.4bn, its highest since Q3 2016.

VC/PE deals in the latest quarter were led by US$475m and US$348m Series B rounds for Chinese electric car companies Beijing CHJ Information Technology and Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors, and a US$224m private equity expansion capital round for Enerkem, the Canadian biofuel technology developer.