China Solar Panels
A worker walks behind solar panels on a factory roof in Hebei Province, China. The world's largest solar market drove the surge in clean-energy investments in the first three quarters of 2014, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said. Reuters

Worldwide spending on renewable-energy projects reached $175 billion in the first three quarters of 2014, up 16 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China drove the surge with record investment in solar energy, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.

Global spending in the third quarter hit $55 billion, a 12 percent rise from a year earlier. Nearly $20 billion of that came from China, which could add 14 gigawatts of solar capacity this year alone, the London-based research company said. That’s more than all the solar power installed in the United States.

Investment patterns in the third quarter mark a substantial geographical shift, with spending on the rise across Asia and investments tumbling in Europe, Ethan Zindler, a Washington-based analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said. “The makeup is really quite different compared with as recently as 2011 or 2012, when Europe accounted for a major share of the total,” Zindler said.

European clean-energy investments dropped to $8.8 billion -- the lowest in more than eight years -- as governments in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany continue to rein in subsidies that helped spark a boom in project development, the report said.

U.S. spending rose to $7.3 billion from $5.7 billion in the third quarter amid growing demand for residential and commercial rooftop solar systems, Zindler said..

The U.S. was once the world’s top investor in clean energy, but it has fallen behind China in recent years as Chinese leaders move to reduce toxic air pollution from coal-burning power plants and to supply more electricity to the growing middle class.

Former U.S. senator and first lady Hillary Clinton said last month that she wants to transform the U.S. into the “clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” Clinton, who mounted an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008 and is considering a second White House bid in 2016 -- called on businesses and politicians to confront climate change through “smart investment in infrastructure, technology and environmental protection.”