China, the world’s largest producer of wind turbines and solar panels, is rapidly becoming the leading global manufacturer of clean energy.
According to the U.S. News and World Report, China also provides almost 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare-earth materials, which are used in many electronics and may be the future of clean technologies. China is also the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter.
Some critics are concerned that, as the the U.S. and other countries become less dependent on oil, they may become increasingly dependent on China for alternative energy technologies.
A New York Times article by Keith Bradsher analyzes these concerns and how this shift may be more positive for the Chinese economy than for the planet:
These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.
“Most of the energy equipment will carry a brass plate, ‘Made in China,’” said K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a private equity fund in Beijing that focuses on renewable energy.
President Obama, in his State of the Union speech last [month], sounded an alarm that the United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy. “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders.”
Foreign Policy blogger Elizabeth Balkan writes how a Chinese solar company plans to build a U.S.-based manufacturing plant to take advantage of the market demand and government incentives. She explains what this could mean for China-U.S. green energy cooperation:
Suntech, the world’s largest solar energy company in terms of photovoltaic module production, said it could cut transport costs and emissions by building closer to its market. The cost of shipping heavy renewable units, combined with the fact that the U.S. and EU currently constitute the majority of clean tech demand, makes local manufacturing facilities a sensible strategy for long-term growth.
Political considerations were also not lost on the company. Appealing to both green jobs enthusiasts and those who perceive China as taking manufacturing jobs from the U.S., Shi said he is hopeful that “initiating manufacturing in the U.S. will drive further growth of green jobs.”
A study last year by the Georgia Tech Research Institute concluded that China would surpass the United States in technology and science by using demand for clean energy as a catalyst for economic growth:
The study’s indicators predict that China will soon pass the United States in the critical ability to develop basic science and technology, turn those developments into products and services – and then market them to the world. Though China is often seen as just a low-cost producer of manufactured goods, the new “High Tech Indicators” study done by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology clearly shows that the Asian powerhouse has much bigger aspirations.
“For the first time in nearly a century, we see leadership in basic research and the economic ability to pursue the benefits of that research – to create and market products based on research – in more than one place on the planet,” said Nils Newman, co-author of the National Science Foundation-funded study. “Since World War II, the United States has been the main driver of the global economy. Now we have a situation in which technology products are going to be appearing in the marketplace that were not developed or commercialized here. We won’t have had any involvement with them and may not even know they are coming.”
Blogger CC Huang at ResponsibleChina.com, writes citizen participation in China’s clean energy push:
Another way in which China could be an example to other countries is rooted in the habits of its citizens. The 2009 Greendex survey showed that China ranked third in terms of environmentally friendly consumer behavior. Chinese citizens drink boiled tap water instead of bottled water, use bikes for transportation more often than cars (China scoring highest overall in the transportation category), and practice energy-saving activities when it comes to housing.
Of course, China is still very much a coal-guzzling economy. Due to the massive amounts of coal found within China’s borders, this might not change anytime soon. Also, as China still has a ways to go before being fully “developed,” consumption is likely to increase.