China vs. Texas

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The New York Times carried a story yesterday laying out the case that the U.S. is getting its ass kicked by China when it comes to renewable energy development, especially solar.

This is the same China that builds a new coal-fired power plant every two weeks, the same China that has probably surpassed the United States as the world’s leader in greenhouse gas emissions.This is like getting beat by a chainsmoker in a footrace.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government is spending billions to drive up its market share of solar panel sales. The Times reports that:

Shi Zhengrong, the chief executive and founder of China’s biggest solar panel manufacturer, Suntech Power Holdings, said in an interview here that Suntech, to build market share, is selling solar panels on the American market for less than the cost of the materials, assembly and shipping.

This duality – aggressive pursuit of a clean energy sector existing side-by-side with a 19th-century carbon-based industrial economy – is not simply a piece of Chinese exoticism. In fact, it kinda reminds me of Texas.

Here, several new coal-fired power plants are under construction. A big chunk of our economy still floats on fossil fuels. We lead the nation in CO2 emissions. On the other hand, we’ve developed a successful wind energy sector that is still growing at a healthy clip.

But like China our old-school energy sector dwarfs renewables.

China plans to have 20,000MW of solar power by 2020. That sounds like a lot but, as the Times notes, it only works out to about half the capacity of the coal-fired power plants added each year in China.

Likewise, wind energy in Texas is only about nine percent of the energy mix. Coal, nuclear and natural gas make up much of the rest. And don’t forget that the Texas Legislature totally failed this year to do anything to jumpstart an indigenous solar energy sector.

That Austin Energy, considered a national leader in renewables, is commissioing a 30MW solar power plant is considered a big deal. Ironically, the company building that project, Gemini Power, is partnered with Suntech… the Chinese company profiled in the Times story.

How do you say “haha” in Mandarin?

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.