Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Chinese Government is Investing in Clean Energy while the US Congress Dithers

In January, Chinese President Hu Jintao came to Washington on an official state visit. In a joint statement President Obama and President Hu said that they "view climate change and energy security as two of the greatest challenges of our time."

During a press conference, President Obama said, “I believe that as the two largest energy consumers and emitters of greenhouses gases, the United States and China have a responsibility to combat climate change by building on the progress at Copenhagen and Cancun, and showing the way to a clean energy future. And President Hu indicated that he agrees with me on this issue.”

With a 2009 investment of $34.6 billion (US), a 2010 study by Pew Charitable Trust considers China to be the world's leading country in clean energy financing. Due to China's domestic policies that promote the use of renewable energy, China's investment and financing for clean energy is almost double America's $18.6 billion (US). The Pew study said countries like China, Brazil, the UK, Germany and Spain that have "strong, national policies aimed at reducing global warming pollution and incentivizing the use of renewable energy are establishing stronger competitive positions in the clean energy economy."

According to a 2010 International Energy Agency report, Chinese energy consumption has doubled over the past decade, and will soar 75 percent by 2035, accounting for more than a third of total global consumption growth. To help meet this demand, China is aggressively investing in renewable sources of energy.

China's need for energy will transform the global clean energy landscape, dramatically expanding markets for clean technologies and prompting major state investments in low-carbon energy alternatives. China has become the world's most vibrant market for a range of green economy technology including renewable energy, high-speed rail, smart grid technologies, and even a growing domestic market for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

China has also set ambitious targets of 100 gigawatts of wind power and 20 gigawatts of solar by 2020. Each target is supported by feed-in tariffs and other financial incentives for renewable energy projects, and in 2009, China surpassed the United States as the world's largest market for wind power.

China is also the world's largest solar cell manufacturer with an annual output of 4,382 MW and the number is still increasing. The current yearly output of solar cells in Jiangsu Province alone accounts for 25% of global output.

China's planned investment in the clean tech market amounts to $740 billion or 5 trillion yuan while the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has allotted less than 5 percent of that amount to clean tech.

Despite a wealth of bilateral engagements and coordination between the two leaders, America is not competing on the same footing in clean tech. The current American energy policy can only be defined as stupid. While the Chinese government is making massive investments, a climate denying Congress ensures that the US will continue to fall behind in the clean technology race.

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