Collaboration Fosters Certainty

Publication: National Journal

Author: Phyllis Cuttino

01/20/2011 - This opinion by Phyllis Cuttino appeared on the National Journal's Energy & Environment Blog in response to The China Energy Dilemma.

The United States and China have a shared interest in nurturing and accelerating the rapidly growing clean energy economy. While each country has different strengths and weaknesses with respect to development in this area, we share common economic, security and environmental interests in the expansion of this dynamic new sector.

Research undertaken by Pew and Bloomberg New Energy Finance over the past 18 months has documented the rapid emergence of the global clean energy sector, which accounted for $230 billion worth of finance and investment in 2010. Dramatic growth in recent years has been helped in part by stepped up investments in the United States and more recently—and significantly—in China. Over the past two years, China surpassed the United States as the world’s leading destination for clean energy investments, attracting more than $50 billion in 2010 alone.

While China and the U.S. are clearly clean energy competitors, there also are compelling reasons and opportunities for the two nations to cooperate.

Historically, the United States has been the world’s leader in innovation in the sector. But U.S. policies have failed to provide investors with the long-term certainty and predictability that are needed to maximize investment and deploy clean energy assets.

In contrast, China trails in energy research but now leads in renewable power deployment. China’s adoption of ambitious clean energy targets and policies has made it a world leader in manufacturing and has helped reduce renewable energy prices worldwide.

In the future, the two countries should work together to expand the renewable energy sector around the world. In fact, the United States and China have taken initial action to establish a robust shared clean power agenda. In 2009, the U.S. and Chinese governments signed a series of cooperative agreements, including research and energy efficiency. Together, they have established a Clean Energy Research Center, jointly funded with $150 million dollars, to work in three areas—carbon capture and storage, energy efficient buildings and electric vehicles.

On the U.S. side, the University of West Virginia and the University of Michigan will play lead roles in these efforts, with participation from General Electric, American Electric Power and other leading private sector companies. In addition, a number of U.S. companies, including General Electric, have established bases of operation in China, and a number of Chinese companies, like Suntech, have developed operations in America.

Cooperation—even in the face of competition—must continue because both nations have so much to gain by advancing technology development in service of common economic, security and environmental objectives. Over the next 10 years, the global clean power sector represents a $2.3 trillion worldwide investment opportunity. The U.S. and China stand to be leading beneficiaries of robust growth in the sector. Working together in mutually beneficial ways will help foster a cleaner and more prosperous future.

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