Friedman: China beating US on low carbon energy

Thomas Friedman is now doubtful that China will follow an American lead towards a greener economy, as he suggested in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded reviewed here. He considers rather that it is more likely to pull ahead of the US. He writes from China in his recent column in the New York Timesthat he’s been astonished to learn of how many projects have got under way in China in just the last year –- wind, solar, nuclear, mass transit and more efficient coal burning.

He quotes Bill Gross, head of a solar-thermal Californian company, eSolar, announcing the biggest solar deal ever, a 2 gigawatt, $5 billion deal to build solar thermal plants in China using California-based technology. Gross comments that China is being more aggressive than the US. His company applied for a US Department of Energy loan for a 92 megawatt project in New Mexico. 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!”

Friedman goes on to instance other developments. Solar panels are one. He says so many new solar panel makers emerged in China in the last year alone that the price of solar power has fallen from roughly 59 cents a kilowatt hour to 16 cents. 50 new nuclear reactors are expected to be built by 2020, while the rest of the world may manage 15. High speed trains are breaking world records. A high speed rail link from Shanghai to Beijing means trains will cover the 700 miles in just five hours, compared with 12 hours today (and 18 hours for a similar distance from New York to Chicago in the US).

China is on the way to making green power technologies cheaper for itself and for 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 concludes with a call to America 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.”

Meanwhile India has plans to be a world leader in solar power, as announced by the Prime Minister a couple of days ago. He launched the National Solar Mission with a target of 20,000 megawatts of solar generating capacity by 2022. It will be helped along by a regulatory and incentive framework. Manmohan Singh hoped the new laws and incentives will “lead to a rapid scale up of capacity. This will encourage technological innovation and generate economies of scale, thereby leading to a steady lowering of costs. Once parity with conventional power tariff is achieved, there will be no technological or economic constraint to the rapid and large-scale expansion of solar power thereafter”.

He said he was “convinced that solar energy can also be the next scientific and technological frontier in India after atomic energy, space and information technology”. The scheme has pride of place in India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change.

Friedman continues to represent the science.

Thomas Friedman, the author of Hot, Flat and Crowded reviewed here on Hot Topic, continues in his New York Times column to accurately reflect what climate scientists are saying .  Saturday’s column is a fine example. As Gareth did in his recent article in the Press Friedman starts by pointing out that “climate change is happening faster and will bring bigger changes quicker than we anticipated just a few years ago.”  

He quotes Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University: ‘We are basically looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations.’

Continue reading “Friedman continues to represent the science.”

Hot, flat and crowded

The following column was written for the Waikato Times in October.  For the Hot Topic posting I’ve brought the final paragraph up to date,  recognising that Obama will head the new administration. Hopefully that will lend substance to Friedman’s optimism.

Thomas Friedman’s recently published book Hot, Flat, and Crowded offers ground for cautious hope in the crisis now upon us. A three times Pulitzer Prize winner, Friedman is well known as the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and for his previous best-selling book The World is Flat, which explored the realities of globalisation.

Friedman is an enthusiastic American. Some of his views on international politics have little appeal for me.  But this book, properly, is well beyond any political alignment.  It faces up to global warming and biodiversity loss, sees how real and dangerous they are, and urges nothing less than a green revolution in America as the only way out for that country and indeed for the world.

As a leading journalist Friedman has had access to many leaders in science and industry and finance.  The result is an energetic and credibly detailed account of how America can move to clean energy.  Friedman is comfortable with a market economy and sees it delivering what is needed, but he is equally sure that its success depends on clear directives and regulations being put in place by federal government. He urges business to see the green revolution as opportunity not threat.

It is easy to despair when considering America.  For eight wasted years the Bush administration has refused to take measures to combat the climate change for which it, of all countries, carries the most responsibility. In annual emissions America as a country may now have been overtaken by China, but its per capita emissions are far greater and its past contribution to the level of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere dwarfs anything China has achieved. The administration’s neglect of the issue, fed by scientific ignorance and susceptibility to powerful lobbying interests, has been staggering.

Yet it is America which provides many of the leading scientists who have uncovered the complex processes of global warming.  American politician Al Gore has done more than any other person to alert the world to its dangers.  California, the world’s seventh largest economy, has committed itself to large emissions reductions.  Other states and cities are following suit. America’s potential to lead the world in a green transformation is enormous.  Its fine universities, its technological capabilities, its wealth, if harnessed for the purpose make the revolution conceivable. Friedman, aware of both the negative and positive aspects of American society, settles for a sober optimism about what can be achieved.

He considers a change in America will also be the answer to China’s current reliance on dirty fuels.  China will suffer dreadfully from climate change as droughts and floods increase and crop yields diminish.  They must be aware of this and will surely follow any lead America offers towards clean energy.  Friedman visits China regularly and has ferreted out evidence of moves there towards a greener economy even in the midst of the headlong rush to fossil fuel-powered growth. He reports encouraging developments which, though nowhere near enough, indicate that China could follow an American lead.

We know all too well in New Zealand how hard it is to get political traction on this most serious of matters. The modest emissions trading scheme has met fierce opposition and looks likely to be diluted even further. Only a few politicians treat the question with the gravity it deserves, and most of the electorate still seems unaware of what looms threateningly for our children and grandchildren.

Here’s hoping that Friedman’s sober optimism proves justified and that Obama will, as he has recently announced, prevaricate and delay no longer but take up the task on which the human future now urgently depends.