Is the Silicon Valley of Clean Energy Growing in China?

How Baoding, China became the world’s first "carbon positive" city.

(by Tyler Burton, crossposted from The Breakthrough Blog)

100 miles southwest of Beijing, a green revolution is underway; and it began, as Peter Ford of the Christian Science Monitor reports, with a "bad case of smelly fish".

Yu Qun (pictured)had only recently been elected mayor of Baoding, China when fish in theregion’s largest lake began to die by the thousands. In his mind, thiscould only be the direct result of pollution from the several hundredfactories which lined the river’s banks. So Mr. Yu took a drastic but,in the long run, incredibly fortuitous step: he closed the factories.

Thismove cost his city large points at first with the Central Government.His annual economic growth was down almost two percentage points; butMr. Yu had a plan:

"Polluting first and cleaning uplater is very expensive," says the boyish-looking mayor, a formercollege math teacher. "So we chose renewable energy to replacetraditional industry."

In three years, Yu has transformedBaoding from an automobile and textile town into the fastest-growinghub of solar, wind, and biomass energy-equipmentmakers in China.Baoding now has the highest growth rate of any city in Hebei Province.Its "Electricity Valley" industrial cluster – consciously modeled onSilicon Valley – has quadrupled its business.

Ofcourse, Mr. Yu met large resistance at first. Many officials in theprovincial and central governments thought he was "impractical", that"renewable energy was 30 or 40 years away…" (Sound familiar?) But Yupersisted, and his persistence paid off.

Such has beenthe success of his perseverance, and of the advantages that Baodingoffered new "green-tech" investors, that the city now houses nearly 200renewable energy companies. One of them makes blades for wind farms inTexas. Another is providing the solar panels for the largest solarpower station in the world, in Portugal.

"New energy has becomea pillar industry in our city," the mayor says. Within two years, heforecasts, it will have overtaken the auto and textile sectors as themost important mainstay of the local economy.

And what’s goodfor Baoding may be good for the world. By one reckoning, the city isthe world’s first to go "carbon positive": The carbon saved annuallyworldwide through the use of equipment made here outweighs the city’sown emissions.

As America struggles to retool its agingmanufacturing sector, perhaps one city’s success at sloughing off itsown burden of pollution can offer inspiration. A word to city plannersfar and wide: we might do well to look towards our own pragmatic Mr.Yu’s. If we dare to make bold choices with a slant towards the future,what can we accomplish in 3 years?



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