Sunday, January 10, 2010

Friedman: China Awakens

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman has a new piece on China's entry into the technological/national transformation race of the 21st century, what he dubs the "Energy Technology Revolution." Friedman says he has been "stunned to learn about the sheer volume of wind, solar, mass transit, nuclear and more efficient coal-burning projects that have sprouted in China in just the last year."

As an example, he quotes Bill Gross of eSolar, "a promising California solar-thermal start-up":

On Saturday, in Beijing ... Gross announced “the biggest solar-thermal deal ever. It’s a 2 gigawatt, $5 billion deal to build plants in China using our California-based technology. China is being even more aggressive than the U.S. We applied for a [U.S. Department of Energy] loan for a 92 megawatt project in New Mexico, and in less time than it took them to do stage 1 of the application review, China signs, approves, and is ready to begin construction this year on a 20 times bigger project!”

What it boils down to for China is this:

Yes, climate change is a concern for Beijing, but more immediately China’s leaders know that their country is in the midst of the biggest migration of people from the countryside to urban centers in the history of mankind. This is creating a surge in energy demand, which China is determined to meet with cleaner, homegrown sources so that its future economy will be less vulnerable to supply shocks and so it doesn’t pollute itself to death."

Despite the competitive nature of this Green Technology Revolution, there's still an important role for bilateral cooperation:

In the process, China is going to make clean power technologies cheaper for itself and everyone else. But even Chinese experts will tell you that it will all happen faster and more effectively if China and America work together — with the U.S. specializing in energy research and innovation, at which China is still weak, as well as in venture investing and servicing of new clean technologies, and with China specializing in mass production."

Friedman sums it up nicely: "It is clear that if we, America, care about our energy security, economic strength and environmental quality we need to put in place a long-term carbon price that stimulates and rewards clean power innovation. We can’t afford to be asleep with an invigorated China wide awake."

Article URL: (1/10/10)

I suppose my only quip is that, yes, China seems dedicated to acting on this. The question is how projects are executed, whether quality and performance can be assured, and whether local actors are empowered and incentivized to act. These would all be factors in determining the long-term success of this transformation.

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