Barriers to greenfield investment in decarbonisation solutions

Published July 2022 by Vincent Emodi 

Nnaemeka Vincent Emodi, Belinda Wade, Saphira Rekker, Chris Greig (2022), “A systematic review of barriers to greenfield investment in decarbonisation solutions”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

Transitioning to net-zero emissions by 2050 requires a rapid increase in clean energy capacity. However, current finance commitments are insufficient to meet this challenge, particularly in greenfield settings. Unlike brownfield projects that involve retrofitting existing energy technologies, greenfield clean energy investments are for new projects developed from the ground up. Securing investment for developing these projects is often challenging, and while some barriers are well documented, others are evolving and less understood. There is a need to identify and understand the barriers impeding more significant investment in greenfield projects to ensure that funding for clean energy projects does not impede progress towards climate goals. Through an analysis of recent literature, this paper explores the obstacles which may limit private finance for clean energy development in greenfield sites and provides policy recommendations to facilitate increased investment. 

“There is a need to survey the emerging literature to understand the obstacles to clean energy investment in greenfield settings. Identifying and understanding these barriers can provide insights regarding initiatives to accelerate the mobilisation of private finance for clean energy development.”

Key findings

  • Our analysis of 45 studies, published between 2010 – 2022, identified 36 barriers to greenfield investment that were grouped into 7 categories: business/market; construction, technical and operational; environmental; financial; legal and ownership rights; policy and regulatory; and political and social barriers.
  • We found that from 2010 - 2022 environmental barriers to investment decreased the most, financial barriers were consistent throughout the years, while political and social barriers and construction, technical and operational barriers increased significantly.
  • These barriers are likely occurring due to ineffective policy and immature clean energy markets in host countries.

“This systematic review shows that despite the global push to expand clean energy technologies through foreign direct investment, the growth of studies focusing on greenfield settings in foreign jurisdictions has been inconsistent since 2010.”


Addressing these barriers requires national governments to redesign markets to give investors more confidence. The creation of national government infrastructure roadmaps would make investment more attractive by reassuring greenfield investors that their projects are secure in the long term. Similarly, policy uncertainty and market instability create barriers to investment that could be reduced by increased government support. Governments can learn from early investments and design durable policies which increase investor confidence. Further, governments and international organisations can create a platform for dialogue between policymakers, research institutions, clean energy companies, the community, and investors. Through discussion with leading investors, prospective investors can build their confidence and foster collaborative investment channels. Addressing barriers to greenfield investment will allow for more rapid private investment in clean energy and enable countries to reach their decarbonisation targets. 

“Compared to brownfield projects, greenfield projects are often perceived to be of higher risk due to uncertainties around the availability of suitable sites, regulation complexity, investor confidence, and securing approvals.”

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