China overtook the United States last year as the global leader in clean energy investment while US spending on renewables fell nearly 40 per cent, according to a report to be released yesterday by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
"The centre of gravity in the clean energy world has shifted from the United States and Europe to China," it concluded.
China's leaders are intensely focused on clean energy. They have aggressive targets for renewable energy and helped bankroll the rapid growth of China's solar and wind industries. That resulted in China drawing US$65 billion in clean energy investment last year, according to the report, a whopping 30 per cent of all renewable investment in the world's top 20 economies.
China was installing solar, as the western European market for its solar products was drying up, said Ethan Zindler, head of policy analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
China is also a major producer of wind turbines and wants to tap its wind resources in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere. China needs energy to fuel its growth and is paying a price for its reliance on coal.
"There is an interest on the part of policy leaders there to address the terrible quality of the air," Zindler said.
The US led in global clean energy investment until 2009. It then traded the top spot with China before reclaiming it during the surge in investment that came along with the stimulus legislation and a record boom in US wind energy construction. US investment in wind skyrocketed as developers scrambled to finance projects before a tax break was to expire at the end of last year.
Congress was keeping the subsidy alive for another year, but scant new US wind energy production was being planned at this point, Zindler said. Now China is in firm control of the global clean energy investment lead while the US "continues to underperform", according to the Pew report.
Pew argues that the lack of a national clean energy policy caused the US to stumble in the clean-energy race.
"In the US there is an uncertain policy, so investment has declined," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's clean-energy programme.
Some 29 states have standards requiring utilities to get some of their power from sources like wind and solar. But several states already were surpassing targets, Zindler said, so they would not be demanding more.
State legislatures also are challenging the renewable energy requirements all over the US, with conservative lawmakers arguing that they should be weakened or repealed.
Pew found investment in US clean energy dropped 37 per cent last year. That came even as spending on home solar surged and solar power generation rose.