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Falling Behind on Renewable Energy

By Matthew Yglesias on April 20, 2009 at 6:24 pm

"Falling Behind on Renewable Energy"

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Ben Furnas has a very interesting CAP report out on how the United States is falling behind in the development of clean energy technology. The point is that since the world is going to need to switch to sustainable technologies sooner or later, those countries who move swiftly are likely to capture most of the benefits. The most telling chart is perhaps this one:

energy_graph5

The thing here is that a substantial portion of the United States is sun-drenched desert or semi-desert in which it’s almost never cloudy. Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Austria, not so much. In other words, if you were to apply a German-style level of commitment to a country that contains things like the vast sunny expanse of the Southwest (as well as other areas, such as Florida, that are distinctly sunnier than Germany) you could get much better results. Instead, the Germans are kicking our assesses, because we’re barely trying.

There’s also this about legendarily dirty China trying to make lemonade out of the downturn and seize the moment to build a cleaner economy:

energy_graph1

A February analysis by HSBC Global Research in Hong Kong projects that nearly 40 percent of China’s proposed $586 billion stimulus plan—$221 billion over two years—is going toward public investment in renewable energy, low-carbon vehicles, high-speed rail, an advanced electric grid, efficiency improvements, and other water-treatment and pollution controls. This stimulus is on top of historic levels of government spending and private investment in renewable technology, energy efficiency, and low-carbon growth all across China. The upshot: China, according to a recent analysis, is “the largest alternative energy producer in the world in terms of installed generating capacity.”

This massive stimulus plan will spend over 3 percent of China’s 2008 gross domestic product annually in 2009 and 2010 on green investments—more than six times America’s green stimulus spending as a percentage of our respective economies. This is about $12.6 million every hour over the next two years. In the United States, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invests $112 billion in comparable green priorities over the next two years, about half as much as China, according to HSBC. This represents less than half of one percent of our 2008 gross domestic product.

This kind of commitment should also, I think, raise some questions about the conventional wisdom holding that China will never participate in international efforts to curb carbon emissions. They appear to be making a pretty serious effort to start exploring some alternatives.

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