Time to get down to business on renewable energy, experts say

By WU CHONG AND CHEN WEIHUA CHINA DAILY

NEW YORK: It’s time for China and the US to get down to business when it comes to developing clean energy.

That was the consensus of experts and industry observers, both Chinese and American, at the China Institute’s two-day forum, “Driving the Green Waves”, which concluded Wednesday.

“They should hold hands together to do more things,” said Li Junfeng, deputy director of the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission.

China and the US are the world’s largest markets for clean energy. They share the same goal and have complementary strengths: the US has the most advanced technology, while China is the best manufacturer, according to Li. Yet the US lags behind Europe and even Japan in taking advantage of China’s large clean energy market, he said.

“China is like a big test site for all kinds of clean technologies. It would be an ideal partnership if the US moved in more actively with its robust research strength,” Li said.

The same is true for Chinese companies, which have been too cautious in tapping the American market, he added.

Lack of communication, intellectual property issues, and export regulations have hampered China-US cooperation, Li said. Several recent reports also suggest that the US has tripped over its own political obstacles.

Last month, the Center for American Progress issued a report saying that without a “truly sustainable growth strategy for the low-carbon future,” the US is falling behind China and Europe in the competition to develop clean energy and risks losing a $2.3-trillion market.

“China, Germany, and Spain are well on their way to global competitiveness in the clean energy economy,” the report said.

Another study by the Pew Research Center reported that China took the lead over the US in overall clean energy finance and investment in 2009, although the US led in renewable energy capacity.

“Right now America is in danger of sitting on the sidelines while those jobs (in clean energy) are being generated in other countries,” said David Yarnold, executive director at the Environmental Defense Fund, another speaker at the China Institute summit.

Yarnold noted that although there is healthy competition between the two countries, their futures are inextricably joined.

“We have hundreds of billions of dollars waiting to be invested (in clean energy). But companies need to understand what the rules will be,” Yarnold said..

A climate bill supporting clean energy development and a cap-and-trade system, drafted by Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman, failed to pass the Congress last year. The bill is now being revised and is expected to return to the Senate floor later this month.

“I’m cautiously optimistic (that it will pass this year),” Yarnold said.

Once the US has a national policy in place, its renewable energy industry will take off “just like China,” which passed a renewable energy bill five years ago and now has a vibrant clean energy market, Li said.

Li said he expects the US to take the lead in renewable energy because of its research and development capability, which China has always been short of.

But the two countries would benefit more from a “win-win” partnership rather from competing, the speakers agreed.

“People are at different stages. Everyone has a lot to learn from each other in clean energy. It’s not one side teaching the other,” said Virginia Kamsky, chairman of the board of trustees of the China Institute.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Energy announced the availability of $37.5 million in financing for American researchers working on clean energy projects with China.

“The goal is to stimulate joint research between the countries, which are the world’s top energy producers and consumers and greenhouse gas emitters,” said David Sandalow, the department’s assistant secretary of energy for policy.

“Working together we can do more than working alone,” Sandalow added.

The funding will go to American researchers and institutions and will be matched by the grantees, bringing the total American contribution to $75 million. An additional $75 million will be supplied by China for Chinese researchers working on projects with the US.

The funding is part of an initiative known as the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, announced last November by Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama. The center will open headquarters in both countries.