Asia’s Clean Tech Tigers Surging Ahead

As Congress debates the Waxman-Markey climate bill, Asia is moving rapidly to win the clean energy race. So warns a new article in the Washington Post today that should serve as a wake-up call to America’s leadership at the highest level.

china flag thumb 200x149 Asias Clean Tech Tigers Surging Ahead

 The new investigative article by Steven Mufson, entitled "Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy," confirms increasingly urgent warnings issued by many, including the Breakthrough Institute,that the United States must dramatically increase direct investments ina clean energy technology push, or be quickly left behind by China,South Korea, India, Japan and others.

Despite Obama’s intentions to increase America’s internationalcompetitiveness, the article reports that the amount and scale ofinvestments in renewable energy programs coupled with ambitiousrenewable energy use targets are putting these Asian nations on pace tosurpass programs set forth by both the U.S. economic stimulus packageand the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the massive climate andenergy bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Citing Breakthrough’s Jesse Jenkins, the article warns:

"If the Waxman-Markey climate bill is the United States’entry into the clean energy race, we’ll be left in the dust by Asia’sclean-tech tigers," said Jesse Jenkins, director of energy and climatepolicy at the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based thinktank that favors massive government spending to address global warming.

Much of the G8 climate discussions last week were stymied by China and India’s outright refusal to accept an international (or any) ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions.Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports, both countries, as well asSouth Korea, are forging ahead with dramatic steps to ramp up theirrenewable industries in ways that will reduce their emissions whileflexing their strengthening clean-tech R&D muscles.

The full article can be read below…

Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy
American Markets’ Slump Feeds Worry
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009

President Obama has often described his push to fund"clean" energy technology as key to America’s drive for internationalcompetitiveness as well as a way to combat climate change.

"There’s no longer a question about whether the jobs and theindustries of the 21st century will be centered around clean, renewableenergy," he said on June 25. "The only question is: Which country willcreate these jobs and these industries? And I want that answer to bethe United States of America."

But the leaders of India, South Korea, China and Japan may havedifferent answers. Those Asian nations are pouring money into renewableenergy industries, funding research and development and settingambitious targets for renewable energy use. These plans could outpacethe programs in Obama’s economic stimulus package or in the Houseclimate bill sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and EdwardJ. Markey (D-Mass.).

"If the Waxman-Markey climate bill is the United States’ entry intothe clean energy race, we’ll be left in the dust by Asia’s clean-techtigers," said Jesse Jenkins, director of energy and climate policy atthe Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank thatfavors massive government spending to address global warming.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke arevisiting China this week to discuss cooperation on energy efficiency,renewable energy and climate change. But even though developing nationsrefused to agree to an international ceiling for greenhouse gases lastweek, China and other Asian nations are already devoting more attentionto cutting their use of traditional fossil fuels such as oil, naturalgas and coal.

South Korea recently said it plans to invest about 2 percent of itsGDP annually in environment-related and renewable energy industriesover the next five years, for a total of $84.5 billion. The governmentsaid it would try to boost South Korea’s international market share of"green technology" products to 8 percent by expanding research anddevelopment spending and strengthening industries such as those thatproduce light-emitting diodes, solar batteries and hybrid cars.

China and India are kick-starting their solar industries. India aimsto install 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2020, more than three timesas much as the photovoltaic solar power installed by the entire worldlast year, the industry’s best year ever. And China’s new stimulus planraises the nation’s 2020 target for solar power from 1.8 gigawatts to20 gigawatts. (A gigawatt is about what a new nuclear power plant mightgenerate.)

"China is trying to catch up in a global race to find alternativesto fossil fuels," the official China Daily said in an article last week.

"A lot of people underestimate how focused China is on becoming aglobal leader in clean technology," said Brian Fan, senior director ofresearch at the Cleantech Group, a market research firm. China nowprovides a $3-a-watt subsidy upfront for solar projects, he said,enough to cover about half the capital cost. Fan said it is "the mostgenerous subsidy in the world" for solar power.

China is also expected to boost its long-term wind requirement to150 gigawatts, up from the current 100 gigawatt target, by 2020,industry sources said. Jenkins said China could provide $44 billion to$66 billion for wind, solar, plug-in hybrid vehicles and otherprojects. Fan said China also plans to make sure that many of theorders go to its own firms, Gold Wind and Sinovel.

The big Asian research and investment initiatives come as U.S.policy makers boast about their own plans, giving ammunition to thosewho say this country needs to do more.

"That R&D represents America’s chance to become the world’sleader in the most important emerging economic sector: energytechnology," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) in a May13 speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "In the years to come, Ihope that America will be selling clean technology to China and Indiaand not the other way around."

Confident that the United States will develop top-notch technology,the House voted overwhelmingly on June 10 to oppose any global climatechange treaty that weakens the intellectual property rights of Americangreen technology.

"We can cede the race for the 21st century, or we can embrace thereality that our competitors already have: The nation that leads theworld in creating a new clean energy economy will be the nation thatleads the 21st century global economy," Obama said on June 29.

But countries in Asia are not standing still waiting for U.S. advances.

That both excites and worries U.S. manufacturers torn betweenopportunity and fear of a boost for Asian competitors at a time whenthe world’s biggest market, the United States, has slowed down sharply."This is heavy manufacturing business. The U.S. has had a greatposition over the last several years," said Vic Abate, vice presidentof renewables at General Electric, the world’s number two wind turbinecompany. "If it slows down and if investment doubles down in China, itwill be a lot harder to catch up."

"We have already been left behind in some areas," said Mark Levine,director of the environmental energy technologies division at LawrenceBerkeley National Laboratory. "But . . . there remain manyopportunities," he said, adding that "the U.S. can carve out key areasin clean energy technology."

Although GE is the only U.S. company among the world’s top 10 windturbine makers (China has two, Germany has three), Levine said "thereare areas in wind energy where we are likely to develop crucialtechnologies that we will both exploit and likely license to others."He cited advanced materials that would permit stronger rotors andtechniques for taking advantage of higher wind speeds at greaterheights.

Levine said the United States is unlikely to "become the or even aleading photovoltaic manufacturer. But our scientific talent . . . hasa good chance of developing the next-generation PV systems which wecould either manufacture in China or another country . . . or licenseto foreign companies. . . . Even if the manufacturing is done abroad,this will lead to very real and large benefits to the U.S. fromlicensing fees, not to say sales in the U.S. and elsewhere."