China-offshore-wind-farmThe way it is looking right now it sometimes seems like China is going to leave the US in the dust in the post fossil energy economy. Recent signs point to an increasingly green thinking China that is getting serious about greening its economy and making it much more energy efficient and one has a serious long term plan (and potential) to green its economy. Its wind and solar sectors are growing at a breakneck pace and are poised to continue doing so and within a few years — if this growth rate continues — will propel China into a world leading position in solar and wind energy production.

In updated news the Pew Charitable Trusts has reported that China is now spending almost twice as much as the US is on investments in investments in clean renewable energy. Last year (2009) U.S. clean energy investments reached $18.6 billion, while China invested $34.6 billion in their clean tech energy. This is a remarkable growth in China’s investments in clean energy up from a total of $2.5 billion just five years ago.

While the US still has a marginal lead in the total amount of the installed base of clean tech renewable energy systems, such as wind, solar or geothermal, China is on course to surpass the US this year and become the global economy with the largest installed wind and solar energy capacity.  Read The Pew study: Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? Growth, Competition and Opportunity in the World’s Largest Economies (PDF)

China’s Growing Green Credentials

Following is a list of some of the reasons I think China is pulling ahead of the US in terms of the green economy and is leaving our nation behind:

• China has cornered the global rare earth element market and is now increasingly also becoming the world’s major manufacturer of the advanced technologies that depend on rare earth elements in order to function – technologies that are critical for a non-fossil fuel based economy. Advanced batteries, electric motors, super-conductors, critical electronic components such as resistors, capacitators and so forth depend on various rare earth elements and China is leveraging its preeminent position as a producer of rare earths to become a major manufacturer of all of these advanced green economy technologies.

• China is targeting more of its stimulus money to green economy initiatives than the US. It is directing 34% of its stimulus spending to green economy initiatives versus less than 20% for US stimulus spending.

• China has surged ahead of the US in solar PV manufacturing capacity and now has more than five times the installed production capacity.

• China has more than tripled its target for wind power capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2020, likely making it the world’s fastest growing market for wind energy technology. It is aiming for an annual growth rate of 20% per year.

• China currently has 12 gigawatts of installed wind power, but that is set to grow to 20 gigawatts by next year. To put this in perspective this is around three times the projected increase in capacity (7GW) in the US for wind energy.

• Last year, China invested $35 billion in Smart Grid construction far out pacing US investment in upgrading its own aging and over taxed grid.

• China already is the biggest solar thermal market worldwide. Three out of four collectors are produced and installed there and its domestic market has grown at an average rate of 28% per year in recent years. To give an idea of the size of its domestic market the newly installed capacity in 2008 for solar heating systems was approximately 21 GWth; that is around 16 times greater than the European market as a whole and 130 times than new added solar heating capacity in the US.

• Premiere Hu has pledged before a world audience to rapidly reduce the Carbon intensity of China’s economy and its total greenhouse gas emissions. While many did criticize the speech for its lack of specific numbers it is a very public commitment and China’s rapid adoption of green technology and enforcement of strict efficiency standards backs it up.

• China already has strict fuel efficiency standards in place right now (in effect since 2008) They are: 43 mpg for cars and 21 mpg for heaver trucks. Compare that to the snail pace fuel efficiency track the US is on.

• China has abundant capital reserves to finance a transformation of its economy away from dependence on fossil energy.

Will the US be Left Behind as a Dirty Coal Country Unable to Compete in the Future Economy

The US seriously risks being left behind by other powers such as China in this case, but also Germany for example. Our nation seems to be heading down a path that will leave us mired in an aging fossil fuel economy buffeted by increasing scarcity induced price spikes and losing the race to transform our economy into becoming a green post-fossil fuel economy that is energy efficient and increasingly powered by energy derived from renewable sources such as the wind or the sun.

Federal government policy seems like it is being held hostage in this country by the power of the fossil fuel lobbies and the politicians in Washington that are beholden to their influence. Important legislation and national R&D efforts are being log-jammed in the byzantine system of committees and process in Congress. Rider after rider is being attached to bills that risk making any initiatives that make it through the legislative process become window dressing toothless feel good bills laden with pork for special interest lobbies such as corn ethanol or “clean” coal — so that much of what little funding that does get through will go to wasteful and ineffectual projects that will lead to long term harm for our nation.

If we do lose that race we are going to be left in the dust by the forward thinking countries of this world that have looked the future in its eyes and are adapting to it. And if our nation does not wake up soon we will fall so far behind other countries that we will be relegated to the also ran status and dependent upon them for the technologies and systems needed to power the future. If we fail to adapt and rise to the challenge, when America’s lights go out and we slip down into increasing impoverishment; China’s lights will still be shining – increasingly being powered by the wind and by the sun.

© 2010, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.

  • David Kane

    Let’s face it, China’s not becoming green because they feel an obligation to the planet…they’re doing it because they can drive the U.S. into a compromising position. Lest we forget, the U.S. is deeply indebted to China financially. We’ve borrowed and borrowed….that’s bad news no. 1.

    No. 2… Regulation. There is isn’t any in China. in the U.S. we have NEPA. Endangered Species Act, and host of other regulatory hoops that projects have to go through to be built on a large-scale on public lands and off-shore (not sayin’ they’re bad…just sayin’) and the public gets involved in every project,…environmental groups have been opposing many, many projects using NEPA and the ESA. China doesn’t have this “problem.” In other words, there is no Environmental Justice mindset there… if the government decides they want to build a giant wind farm and transmission line across your field in China, well…too bad… people aren’t compensated, or if any, it’s miniscule… there’s no private property to speak of…

    In the U.S., by contrast, is unlikely to build the massive transmission needed for renewables without having to cross private lands… and no State in the U.S.., at least in the West where a bulk of the renewable sites reside, no state’s governor is going to allow it if the citizens of that state aren’t going to benefit… Not only that, the taxation hasn’t been figured out and most counties or municipalities rightfully want a piece of the money generated… so what’s the tax structure going to be…? And let’s not forget aboutt the green-washing that’s going on… wind and solar are energy-intensive resources requiring infrastructure on a scale that rivals oil and gas….

    No. 3… China isn’t just going to beat us to the punch on green energy, but every other kind of energy resource…coal, natural gas, and oil… they have eyes, and in some case bodies too, spread all over the globe… Mongolia, Sudan, Africa, and now South America too…

    No. 4…China’s not democratic, so the decision to move forward is not grid-locked in the Congressional battles we see in the U.S… Democracy is messy and cumbersome, and you have to ask, “Where is the U.S.;Energy Policy?” The U.S. is failing its citizens in that regard…. and until stakeholders come together and agree that they’re going to have to give up something near and dear for the greater good (oooh…that sounds like the :”S” word…), then the U.S. can’t possibly begin to compete with China….

    Renewable energy is the new cold war, and we’re being pushed into a race that’s going to be hard for the win without a more united policy….and citizenry… and the will political will and capital to make hard decisions…

    We can’t make our future without natural gas being used as a bridge to the future…and no matter what choice the U.S. makes whether to drill more, or drill less and try to emphasize renewables, somebody’s going to have to sacrifice or give up something…

    China will leave us in the dust not only in renewables, but every other kind of fuel and energy resource because the most of the U.S. citiznery is too naive to know how globally intertwined the world’s population is…

  • Marsha

    Unless the US finds a way to wean itself away from its
    sickeningly bloated Pentagon budget and its corporate money-driven politics, we will never be able to 1) pass the laws needed to shift the economy into low-carbon gear
    or 2) have the funds sufficient to implement
    such policies.
    Activists, take note!

  • flytcher

    clearly china will leave america in the dust… americas over bloated ways have done it in… where as most of china is and always has been living a more sustainable lifestyle…
    did people really think they could drive suv’s forever?

  • Nick Palmer

    Unless the neo-cons and the Republicans get the rocks out of their heads and stop blindly resisting the necessary changes, the USA will be a second or third rate power within a generation.