“Europe is losing its leadership position”

Interviewed by Jörg-Rainer Zimmermann, 25 Apr 14
… in terms of investment in utility-scale renewable energy. And: There are many policy uncertainties to clear up in Europe – says Angus McCrone, Chief Editor, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, London.

new energy: I refer to one recent Bloomberg headline: “Stronger first quarter for global investment in clean energy”. In fact, this is true for small-scale solar. What about onshore and offshore wind? And could you tell me your ‘wind predictions’ for this year and 2015?

Angus McCrone: Our latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast is for total global wind installations in 2014 of 47.3GW, up from 32.2GW in 2013, and for 52.6GW in 2015. Of these totals, offshore wind will be 1.5GW in 2013, 2.6GW in 2014 and 3.7GW in 2015. That is different from the investment trend, because the moment of financing may be a year or more before commissioning of the project. In the first quarter of 2014, asset finance of utility-scale wind projects was $22.8bn, down from $37.3bn in Q4 2013, and $26.1bn in Q1 2013.

new energy: Citizens have played an important role in financing clean energy projects in Germany so far. Do you think this situation is going to change? All in all, how important are local initiatives for financing projects in Europe and worldwide?

Angus McCrone: Germany has led the way in this respect, but other countries are likely to follow as policy-makers become more sensitive to the views of local communities. For instance, in the UK, the coalition government is saying that it wants to see a higher proportion of community-led energy projects.

new energy: Are we witnessing a shift in the key players behind the financing of clean energy projects (e.g. less mid-market)? Who are the most important players at the moment? And is Europe now falling behind the US and China?

Angus McCrone: The most important change is probably that European utilities are cutting back on investment in renewable power projects. That is not true of all utilities - for instance, Enel Green Power is carrying on with a strong investment programme and so is Dong. But others such as RWE, SSE and Iberdrola are cutting back or have already cut back. European asset finance of renewable energy projects in 2013 was $23.5bn, down from $37.1bn in 2012. US asset finance was $19.8bn, down from $27.1bn, while Chinese asset finance was $53.3bn, up from $51bn. So Europe is certainly losing its leadership position in terms of investment in utility-scale renewable energy, although it remains one of the two most important locations for small-scale solar investment (along with Japan).

new energy: Different types of investors have quite different expectations about the level of return on investments. Could you give some – maybe extreme – examples of such expectations? Is the situation changing?

Angus McCrone: I don't think it is changing, apart from the fact that institutional investors are increasingly seeing the attraction of stable yields of up to 6% on equity ownership of renewable power projects. Private equity investors and developers continue to look for much higher returns than, for instance, utilities or individual investors.

new energy: German banks are calling for higher capital requirements since two years. This is lowering the equity return. What is the international situation like (for wind onshore/offshore)?

Angus McCrone: The Basel III rules have led to banks in some European countries, for instance the UK, moving away from offering long-tenor (15-year) debt. Instead they are offering only seven or eight-year loans. However German and Japanese banks have been more prepared to offer 15-year money, along with development banks such as the EIB.

new energy: Talking about the switch to renewables, Germany is one of the leading countries. There is policy uncertainty in Berlin and therefore – not only, but also – in Europe. In your view, is the situation slowly regaining stability?

Angus McCrone: Not really. There are many policy uncertainties to clear up - from the details of how the CFD programme will work in the UK, to the result of the Scottish referendum in September, to the fate of renewable energy subsidies in France against the backdrop of the legal challenge to the wind tariff, to the details of the new German system, to whether green certificate support in Romania will be retroactively reduced or not. Almost the only countries where uncertainty has diminished significantly are Sweden, with the new move in February to reduce oversupply of certificates, and Ireland, where eligibility for the REFIT programme was extended last year to the end of 2017.


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