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Seeking cleaner future, world turns to renewable energy

Washington — Investment in renewable energy skyrocketed in 2007, but such sources still provided just a tiny fraction of the world’s power, researchers said Tuesday on the sidelines of an international renewable energy conference in Washington.

Investment in renewable energy technologies amounted to 71 billion dollars last year, up from 55 billion dollars in 2006 and 40 billion dollars in 2005, according to a recent report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).

Although just 3.4 percent of global electrical power is generated from renewable sources, it is growing at a rate that outstrips the rest of the energy sector – renewable generation was up by 30 percent a year compared to less than 4-per-cent growth in other electric sources, said Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute, which was among the REN21 report’s producers.

That rapid growth in renewables extends beyond Western nations, with emerging economies like China and India adding wind power capacity, for example, he said.

Interest in renewable fuels has spurred hundreds of firms hoping to harness the trend. The trade show at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference drew more than 160 companies and associations, who sought to woo attendees with everything from hybrid cars and trucks to giant solar ovens.

The burgeoning interest in renewable energy – including bio-fuels, solar and wind power – comes amid growing concerns about global warming caused by the greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.

"There is good news and bad news – the bad news is fossil reserves are running out. The good news is fossil reserves are running out," Hermann Scheer, a German Bundestag member who heads an international group on renewable fuels, told ministers, non-governmental organizations and business leaders at the Washington conference.

As conventional fuels become more scarce, governments and businesses are being pushed to find cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternatives, he said.

Tony Hayward, chief executive of British oil giant BP, told the conference that he has seen a change in attitudes in the United States – seen as an energy guzzler – with energy policy figuring into the presidential election.

"America is the world’s biggest energy consumer, and any change in consumption has to begin here," Hayward said.

The US-hosted meeting drew criticism from Scheer, who dubbed such meetings just talk – before calling on attendees to come to an April gathering in Berlin to form an international group on renewable resources.

Despite its reputation, the United States was among the countries leading the increase in renewable energy – adding wind power and ethanol-producing capacity, the REN21 report showed. Heavily subsidized US ethanol, however, has been heavily criticized for damaging side effects – occupying farmland for the maize used to produce it and raising the price of food crops.

At the meeting, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced an 18.4-million-dollar investment in research and development for bio- fuels and other plant-based products to combat climate change.

"We are seeing a convergence of forces that tells me our world is on the way to a cleaner energy future," Bodman said, stressing the impact of high oil prices on the economy and the reliance on fuel from the Middle East and other volatile regions.

US President George W Bush will address the conference Wednesday, and ministers hope to come up with an updated action plan by Thursday, complete with a new set of national pledges. It is the third such international meeting since 2004.

DPA with Expatica