06 March 2010

While We Consider, China Constructs

When Duke Energy and ENN Group announced their partnership to accelerate development of low-carbon and clean energy technologies at the Clinton Global Initiative last September, Duke CEO Jim Rogers explained that "We must move at 'China speed' to combat global warming."

"China," Rogers explained, "is leading the world in investing in clean energy and we can make greater progress by joining forces and working together."

This was no less evident today at the MIT Energy Conference, where a distinguished panel shed light on what "China Speed" really means.

It means, according to Dr. Ning Li, Dean of the School of Energy Research at Xiamen University, that China's 2020 target of 30GW of wind capacity will be met by midyear -- that's this year. (They set that target in 2007.)

It means that China's new target for 100GW of nuclear power by 2025 will probably be met in record time as well.

The country currently has 26 new nuclear facilities under construction, compared to around the same number "under consideration" in this country, according to Dr. Andrew Kadak, Professor of the Practice of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.

"Nuclear is now 'Made in China,'" said Dr. Kadak.

While we consider, China constructs.

It means that while we debate about technologies and subsidies and "buy American," the Chinese are "learning and innovating by doing," as Dr. Ning Li titled his remarks on the panel.

It means that a company like Gold Wind can, in just a few short years, go from licensing a German technology to buying the manufacturer to becoming a Top 10 company in its own country.

And it means that when Applied Materials is looking for the best place to site one of its largest R&D facilities, they look to China because of the "synergistic benefits of the largest market for its solar products," as Dr. Hongmei Zhang of ENN Group put it.

Fears of a cleantech race with China are surfacing throughout the US, and some are saying those fears are unfounded.

But, the reality is while we consider, China constructs. They are building the infrastructure of the energy future while we can't seem to get our heads out of the oil sands.

"You should think of China as a stimulating threat rather than a competitive threat," said Dr. Hongmei Zhang, with genuine hope that we might heed her advice.

But, as she also said in her remarks, Americans tend not to listen as well as Chinese.

Indeed, Hongmei noted, "In China, when president Hu says we will do this, we answer, 'yes sir.' In the US, the answer is "says who?"

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