re-energized:

Sarah Fister Gale

What a difference a few years can make.

Back in 2007, renewable energy seemed poised to launch a new green economy. Wind, solar, geothermal and hydro projects were cropping up all over the world. Though many of the projects were small, and the companies developing them untested, investors and government legislators jumped in—positively giddy about the potential ecological, social and economic benefits.

Although renewable energy (excluding hydropower) is a small portion of total global energy supply, installations nearly tripled between 2000 and 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

When the economy crashed, though, the business case for renewable energy projects suddenly wasn’t so easy to make. Projects in development were shut down, and new ones scrambled to secure funding.

“From 2008 to 2009, things slowed considerably in the solar market,” says Ted Sullivan, senior analyst for the solar intelligence practice at Lux Research, New York, New York, USA. “There was a lot of uncertainty about what the subsidies would look like heading into 2009 in key markets like Spain and the United States.”

Adding to the trouble was the fact that many renewable energy component manufacturers had overbuilt, creating more generation than the power grid could store, says Mr. Sullivan.

“There was already too much …

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