According to a Pew Charitable Trusts survey, the United States has reclaimed the top spot in clean energy investment, toppling China from its number one global ranking. Meanwhile, investment in renewables around the world continues to surge, reaching $237.2 billion in 2011, up almost 8 percent from the previous year. Despite austerity measures, expiring tax credits and the continued global hunt for oil, developed and developing nations alike are striving to add more non-fossil fuels to their energy portfolio.

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The U.S. had fallen to second in the Pew’s rankings in 2009 and fell to third globally last year. But $48.1 billion in clean energy investments, a 42 percent increase from 2010, led to a year of milestones as the U.S. regained the top spot. Solar power was the largest beneficiary, with 1.7 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity added, the first time the U.S. installed more than 1 GW of solar in one year. The size of the projects during this record year was particularly robust as the majority of financing was for utility-grade solar farms. While the U.S. led the world with $30 billion in large-scale solar project deployments, the financing of projects like wind power and smaller solar projects (as in homes and small businesses) lagged behind other countries.

Renewables will face challenges in the United States and other countries. Around the world three-fourths of the stimulus money, which governments committed to clean energy projects in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crises, has already been spent. In the U.S. several tax credits, loan guarantees and grants expired in 2011. The European Union will also see growth in renewables hit a plateau as governments cut back on incentives to increase renewables because of the lingering Euro crisis.

Meanwhile countries including Australia, India, Indonesia and Japan are likely to see increased growth in their renewables markets as they struggle to meet the electricity demands of their citizens. China’s future in wind power is also strong–so the U.S. claim to the number one spot may be short-lived.

+ Pew Charitable Trusts

Photos Courtesy Wikipedia (Activ Solar, Nadine Y. Barclay)