First China trumped the United States in women’s Olympics team gymnastics, now they’re winning the green energy race? This report, released last week by the Center for American Progress’ Ben Furnas, finds that China plans to invest $220 billion in green energy over the next two years – twice as much as the U.S. stimulus plan will plow into the sector.
As with the gymnasts, though, there’s a bit of numerical trickery and a lot of contortion and that goes into this apparent Chinese victory. Furnas leans heavily on this report by The Climate Group, created through a partnership with HSBC, for some of the scary visions of China’s green energy superiority: the emerging superpower is likely already the No. 1 manufacturer of low carbon technologies like solar photovoltaic technology and; policymakers have set impressive goals across all sectors of the economy, aiming for 15% renewable energy by 2020 and requiring big industry to reduce their energy intensity 20% by 2010.
There’s a lot to like about China’s approach, but Furnas glosses over some of the China’s challenges.
Notably, China is hungry for energy and it has lots and lots and lots of coal, ergo: the future remains black and lumpy. As Keith Johnson points out in the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog, Chinese officials just announced a plan to increase wind power generation to 100 gigawatts by 2020. Who did the announcing? The head of the coal department of the National Energy Administration. Coal plants, meanwhile, will generate a total of 1,000 gigawatts by 2020.
And while China is ace at manufacturing solar cells, only 0.08 gigawatts of solar capacity had actually been installed as of 2007, according to The Climate Group report.
The double back handspring back tuck of the report, though, is the inflated reporting of China’s goals and green energy commitment. First, officials argue that the stimulus isn’t as green as HSBC thinks it. And the country has lost ground in its energy intensity reduction plans since 2002 and officials aren’t sure if they can turn the trend around anytime soon.
Furnas follows the time honored tradition of conjuring up the Red Menace to make his real point: “There is no reason the United States shouldn’t lead the world in renewable energy.” No argument here.