Image: Solar installers from Baker Electric place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, California, U.S. October 14, 2016.
By Nina Chestney and Christoph Steitz
MARRAKESH/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Renewable energy will keep growing in the next few years as costs drop and coal use continues to fall, despite U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to revive the fossil fuel, investors and analysts said.
Trump has said he wants to boost the U.S. coal, oil and shale industries and has threatened to leave a global climate deal called the Paris Agreement, which aims to phase out net greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of the century.
Nearly 200 countries are meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, this week, to work on the details of implementing the pact.
The prospect of an abrupt shift in U.S. climate policy under Trump has lifted the shares of its coal companies and other firms linked to fossil fuels and dragged down those of renewable energy players.
But possible policy changes under Trump should not dampen investment in clean energy for now, investors said.
“It is important to remember that not all renewable energy companies are exposed to the U.S. market and there are still significant opportunities elsewhere,” said Charlie Thomas, manager of the Jupiter Ecology Fund.
Last year, global renewables investment reached an all-time high of nearly $350 billion. Prices for solar photovoltaic modules have fallen by 80 percent since 2009 while wind turbine prices have dropped by up to 40 percent.
New renewables capacity in the global power sector was higher last year than coal, gas, oil and nuclear combined, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Added to that, coal consumption will “barely grow” in the next 25 years as Chinese demands falls due to efforts to fight air pollution, together with reduced demand from Europe and the United States, the IEA said in its World Energy Outlook 2016.
“We see clear winners for the next 25 years – natural gas but especially wind and solar – replacing the champion of the previous 25 years, coal,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
WAIT AND SEE
There is scepticism that coal will see a prolonged revival, even in the United States, when Trump takes office in January, because demand from the power sector has been in decline since the emergence of shale gas in 2005.
“We will probably see that regulatory pressure added on coal throughout the Obama years ease off. But the fundamental pressure is from the low prices of shale gas and that means that there will be a lot of challenges to the expansion of coal,” said Benjamin Sporton, CEO of the World Coal Association.
Most European energy companies have entered wait-and-see mode following Trump’s election victory, banking on bipartisan commitments to solar and wind energy support schemes by the end of the decade that they say make investments safe.
“The current U.S. incentive programs … were passed jointly by Democrats and Republicans in Congress,” said Pierre-Pascal Urbon, chief executive of Germany’s SMA Solar, which makes nearly half of its sales in the Americas region.
Long-term, investors are more uncertain.
German utility E.ON, which has about 4 billion euros ($4.3 billion) of mostly wind assets in the United States, sees no reason to change tactics for now but will only invest if the political framework is right.
“If the growth is not tangible, then obviously capex will not be spent, and there we wait and see what the outcome of the political program is,” chief financial officer Michael Sen said last week.
This chimes with comments from wind turbine maker Nordex, which expects strong expansion of wind power in the United States, its second-largest market, by the end of the decade.
“What’s going to happen long-term is a different story,” chief executive Lars Bondo Krogsgaard said.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Alister Doyle in Marrakesh, editing by David Evans)
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