“Workers in Shanghai walk on the roof of the Theme Pavilion, built for the World Expo 2010. The roof is covered with solar panels.”
A new gold rush in China is actually a green rush “” an urgent drive to develop green technologies. One group of Western companies, the Cleantech Initiative, suggests China’s market for renewable energy could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion to $1 trillion a year.
Now, Obama administration officials are warning that the U.S. could risk losing the race in green technologies.
“The future of sustainable energy is here.” The words are emblazoned on a wall at the world’s largest nongovernmental solar research center. It was built by an American company, Applied Materials, in the central Chinese city of Xian.
The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically “” 30 percent in the past year alone. One major reason is the “China price,” or the competitive advantages offered by Chinese manufacturing, with its cheap labor and economies of scale. China is now the world’s biggest producer of photovoltaic solar panels, making about 40 percent of all panels, according to the China Daily, mostly for export.
For more on China eating our lunch on clean energy, see “Invented here, sold there.” The NPR story continues:
At Applied Materials’ $250 million research center in Xian, Elizabeth Mayo, a process engineer from Santa Clara, Calif., is working with local staff testing solar panels in the Sunfab panel reliability test lab. This simulates extreme weather conditions, and the company boasts that it is the world’s only laboratory capable of testing 61-square-feet solar panels.
Mayo is impressed by the facilities in Xian. “We don’t have facilities like this in the U.S. We don’t have anything of this magnitude,” Mayo says.
Catrina Ren, an enthusiastic English-speaking engineer, beams while showing a visitor another facility at the research center: vast empty hangars waiting for new pilot lines for crystalline silicon, and thin film solar technology to be installed. “I’m very proud I have chance to work here,” she says. “This is most advantaged tech center in world. I graduated from university only two years ago. I’m very proud.”
And Applied Materials is no doubt overjoyed to have Catrina and her former classmates on staff. Costs in China are much cheaper than in the U.S. An engineering graduate in Xian earns one-tenth of her American counterparts.
And the biggest draw is the eternal lure of China’s fabled market. Gang Zhou, general manager of Applied Materials Xian facility, says the company has decided to put its money where its customer base is.
“China is No. 1 producer of solar panels. That’s where our market is. The China new R&D center, that’s where we validate a lot of R&D work that is being carried out in U.S. and in Europe,” he says.
As President Obama prepared to visit the historic climate conference here, there were signs Wednesday of a break in the impasse between rich and developing nations.
The United States and Japan agreed to make major contributions to the developing world to keep prospects of a deal alive. And the leader of a bloc of African nations said they would accept a smaller — though still sizable — package of financial aid, in return for going along with an agreement.
But tear gas hung in the air outside the conference center, as protesters demanding faster and more stringent cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions clashed with police. And, inside, talks were slowed by disagreements within the developing world — which has proved a more powerful, and more fractious, force than expected.
Some environmentalists expressed hope that Obama’s appearance Friday, the final day of the 12-day talks, could help end the two chaotic weeks on a successful note.
“If the pieces are here, President Obama is the only person who can pull them together into an agreement,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “We expect him to do so.”
Even before the United Nations-led talks began, it was clear they would not deliver what environmental groups had initially hoped for: a global treaty on climate change, with high-emitting countries formally pledging to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions in the coming decades.
Instead, the goal was to sign a “political agreement,” in which nations would pledge to tackle emissions but without making a binding commitment under international law. The understanding was that a formal treaty would come in 2010.
That goal still seemed within reach Wednesday, one day before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives to take part in the negotiations.
Carbon emissions legislation may remain at a crossroads in Congress, but large swaths of citizens in other countries seem to think President Barack Obama could break that stalemate.
A new poll, released Wednesday, finds majorities or pluralities in 21 of 25 surveyed countries believe the president will persuade the United States to commit to “significant measures” to address global climate change.
That sentiment is especially pronounced among those in Brazil, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, according to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. In those countries, more than two-thirds expressed faith that the president will provide the boost necessary to get climate change legislation rolling.
Interestingly enough, it is unclear whether U.S. citizens and lawmakers feel similarly about the White House’s ability to spearhead a campaign to address global warming.
For one thing, Obama’s forthcoming trip to Copenhagen for an international climate change summit has already drawn the ire of many members of Congress, some of whom have clearly signaled they will oppose any carbon reductions treaty the president and other world leaders draft there.
At the same time, the future of Democrats’ cap-and-trade legislation remains totally uncertain. Healthcare has to some degree relegated that legislation to the back burner in the Senate, which is trying to address its top priority before it departs Washington for the holiday season
U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged delegates at the Copenhagen meeting on climate change to reach a legally-binding agreement within six months and said rich countries should find extra money to help poor nations cut pollution.
“People rightly say: if we can provide the finance to save our banks from the bankers, we can, with the right financial support, save the planet from those forces that would destroy it,” Brown said in a speech. “Nothing matters more to any nation’s interest than the fate of the only world we have.”
World leaders from China, the U.S., the European Union and India, the top polluters, today take charge of the talks from envoys who have bickered over key provisions since Dec. 7. The talks are scheduled to finish tomorrow, with U.K. Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband saying they’re in “grave danger.”
Developed nations such as the U.S. and Japan may agree by tomorrow to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by less than what United Nations scientists say are needed to keep the planet from overheating, according to analysts.
Brown called for an agreement with “transparency in accounting” on greenhouse gas levels for both developed and developing nations. Acknowledging that a final pact is unlikely to come this week, Brown called action that could become “a legally-binding instrument within six months to a year.”
In a line aimed at reassuring countries including China suspicious of targets, Brown said national sovereignty wouldn’t be diminished by the deal.
“I do not ask my country or any country to suspend its national interest but to advance it more intelligently,” Brown said.
The clean-coal industry has been shut out of the global emissions trading scheme at the Copenhagen climate change talks, dealing a blow to the UK, US and Australia.
The three Western countries and Saudi Arabia had strongly argued that advanced new clean-coal plants, which trap emissions underground, ought to earn credits for being a low-carbon source of energy.
But a United Nations committee decided not to include the industry in its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which rewards companies that invest in green energy.
Ed Miliband, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is a strong supporter of the fledgling technology, which attempts to siphon off carbon dioxide when coal is burnt and pump it into geological formations such as disused gas fields.
The UK Government has committed to funding four £1bn trial carbon-capture and storage plants, with the first due to be completed either by Scottish Power in 2014 or by E.ON in 2016.
It is understood that Brazil was largely responsible for blocking the inclusion of carbon capture and storage on the list of approved clean energy over concerns about “the long-term liability for the storage site, including liability for any seepage”.
More work will be done on the proposal before the next summit to be held in Mexico next year and South Africa in 2011.
The Clean Development Mechanism – where polluting companies can buy carbon allowances from approved renewable energy projects in the developing world – has come under heavy criticism at the summit.
A new report by Point Carbon showed this week that inadequate project preparation means almost one third of all the projects under the United Nations’ carbon-trading system fail to deliver any benefits.
The UN last week banned several Chinese wind farms from participating in the scheme, having temporarily suspended the whole country, over fears they had been playing the system.