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Thanks to everyone for their support in 2011 and my best wishes for your health and happiness in 2012!

The U.S./China Clean Energy blog ends the year with close to six thousand views, a level I believe can increase several fold next year following the January 2012 release of Sustaining U.S.-China Cooperation in Clean Energy by the Kissinger Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center (WashDC).

I’ll close out the year by giving you this preview of Cooketop News, my Paper.Li aggregator providing “front-burner” updates about the U.S. Mid-Atlantic connection and “hot” insights on clean energy technology, investment and policy.  Okay, I’ll remove tongue from cheek now.  More prosaically, Cooketop News will be hitting the Internet airwaves on a regular daily basis (Mon-Fri) starting Monday, January 2nd. A summary of top stories will then be provided each week in a Friday post here on U.S./China Clean Energy along with personal observations about what impact the weeks events are having on ‘U.S.-China sustainability’ trends.

Here is the summary of stories from this week’s trial run:

Monday, December 26, 2011

California’s new Renewables Portfoliio Standard (RPS) program

 Predictions for Cleantech in 2012

 The smart grid according to Cisco

 How do you say ‘Google Search’ in Chinese? 2011 top search results in Asia

 China continues tradition of Christmas crackdowns

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

 JDS Architects wins major Green Building Design Award in Hangzhou

U.S. smart grid gets US$8bn boost toward a smarter and greener future

SEIA & GTM Research release “U.S. Solar Market Insight: 3rd Q 2011” report   

China proposes collecting bio-data on foreign visitors

 Big Oil redrawing the energy map with unconventional fuels

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Retrofits are the new darling for energy efficiency investors

China needs new policy course as capital tide turns

China plans Asia’s biggest coal-fired plant

Interactive map for tracking China’s global investment by sector

10 predictions for Cleantech and Sustainability in 2012

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 clean energy stories of 2011

China’s energy consumption now double the world average

U.S. DoE supporting research into advanced solar thermal

China drafting plan protect copper & other investments in Afghanistan

New funding could help lower cost of electric vehicle (EV) chargers

Friday, December 30, 2011

Food security to be a concern for China in 2012

Beijing on the horns of a new yuan exchange rate dilemma

Does China’s rare earth’s monopoly imperil clean energy?

Gordon Chang updates his ‘coming collapse of China’ prediction, 10 yrs later

5 predictions for Boston Cleantech in 2012

 

That’s it for 2011!  Enjoy an exhilarating slide into 2012 and I’ll look forward to seeing you on the other side of New Year’s Day.   Best wishes for the new year!

The surest way of knowing where the Chinese national government wants to go is to follow the money they put into mega-projects.

The development of Shenzhen and Pudong over the 6th – 9th Five Year Plans (FYP) showed the government’s attitude toward market-opening in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, the Binhai project in Tianjin likewise demonstrates the central government’s commitment to clean energy development  and the China Medical Center in Jiangsu demonstrates their interest in advanced health technologies to combat cancer and other diseases affecting an aging population.

Cloud Computing is high on the government’s to-do list. Beijing is reported to have committed more than US$150 million (RMB 1 billion) to develop a 10 square kilometer “‘cloud computing’ Special Administrative Region (SAR)” for high-tech and start-up firms in the south-western city of Chongqing. Although the initial financial ante is modest, the stakes being played for are high.   Importantly, the cloud computing SAR will reportedly be exempted from the the country’s strict system of internet censorship control, known affectionately as  “The Great Firewall (GFW).”

For the issue of how Beijing’s central Five Year planning process translates to mega-projects, I try to tackle this in my book in the chapter called “Managing Hyper-Growth.”.

I was asked today what accounts for China’s outsized role in solar PV , amounting currently to roughly 50% of global share of production despite having a Lilliputian share of global consumption.  It comes down to three inconvenient truths.   That said, the degree of inconvenience of each truth varies with the point of view (e.g., ‘panda hugger’ vs ‘dragon slayer’ in the U.S. vs  ‘patriotic netizen’ in China) of who you happen to be talking with :

(1) Post-WWII, Asia (and notably China since 1982) has had clear advantages of cheaper land, cheaper labor and cheaper facilities relative to manufacturers in higher per capita income markets in the West. Since solar panel production has some basic similarities to the manufacturing process for computer memory chips (which in the 1990s were the basic ‘rice’ commodity of the IT boom in Asia), solar manufacturing has benefited from the natural ‘cluster effect’ of decades of chip manufacturing know-how of Chinese, Taiwanese and other investors on the mainland.

(2) The barriers to entry for solar manufacturers are lower than the earlier tech waves of integrated circuits and bio-technologies so national and local
government in China has seized on it to bootstrap their economies to a higher rung of the global value chain. This has meant various government subsidies (on the producer side) to the point of a casino mentality — more than 100 solar manufacturers in the single town of Dezhou in Shandong Province. (The Chinese government also rounded up and ramped up polysilicon supply when that key input for solar PV production tightened in 2010/11);

(3) There’s not yet an established market for solar products in China so almost everything is exported to Western markets — especially to those national
markets like Germany and Spain and state markets in the U.S. such as New Jersey that have been subsidizing the industry (on the consumer side). [Note: World Trade Organization rules tend to allow/encourage consumer-side subsidies and to sanction producer-side subsidies, hence the recent trade action by the 7 Western solar firms against China. However, these actions take time to work their way through the ‘python’ of WTO process).

As a wrote almost a year ago ( click here for link ), there’s a global boom/bust going on in PV solar and China is in the thick of it.

Premise

Participation in China’s fast-growing nuclear market offers promise and peril for global market-leaders.  A model coupling U.S. innovation with Chinese scale and speed of deployment offers the best path forward.

Discussion

The development of China’s nuclear market has been driven by a governmental elite, many of whom were trained as engineers. Their strategic thinking appears to be motivated in part by the challenges of climate change – to adopt lower carbon sources of electricity generation. As the vice president of the China Nuclear Energy Association has pointed out, nuclear power – rather than solar, wind or biomass – is “the only energy source that can be used on a mass scale” to achieve clean, low-carbon energy.

Just as significantly, though, China’s rapid expansion of nuclear power appears motivated by a desire to upgrade the Chinese nuclear industry by enticing foreign suppliers who want to participate in China’s market growth to share their technology with Chinese partners. The profit potential is vast in China, but other big emerging economies, such as India and Brazil, will be exploring nuclear installations in coming decades. To wrest some of that business away from established incumbents –such as France’s Areva and Japan’s Westinghouse – China is leveraging its low-cost labor and deep experience with major infrastructure projects. A Western-designed reactor can be built in China for 40% less cost and 36% faster than that same installation in Europe.

For China to become globally competitive its two major nuclear power companies — China National Nuclear Corporation and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group — will need to improve in the knowledge-intensive end of the business. Of the 13 nuclear power plants currently operating in China, only three — all at the Qinshan site — rely on an indigenously developed design. Likewise, China has only limited experience selling its reactors in export markets; Pakistan is the only known foreign buyer to date. Finally, to compete globally, China will need to manufacture specialized components, for which it is currently dependent on foreign suppliers.

As for U.S.-China strategic cooperation in the nuclear field, there have been important undertakings but, to date the governments have not attempted anything on a broad strategic basis. There are interesting opportunities on the horizon. Former U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., has reported discussing with Bill Gates a new kind of reactor “that runs for decades on a single fuel load, making and destroying plutonium as it runs,” thereby reducing the hazards of reprocessing and the dangers of proliferation. According to Huntsman, strategic cooperation between the U.S. and China to develop this American-pioneered technology could bring shared benefits. The technology could, for example, be certified and brought to commercial scale faster in China. A partnership effort could be envisioned where a joint American-Chinese company leads the construction, with co-development and commercialization rights apportioned between the partners. The end-result could be a cleaner and (marginally) safer form of energy brought to consumers quickly and at scale.

(This piece has been reprinted from G+ Insights, a publication series of the Gerson Lehrman Group at www.gplus.com.  The G+ piece, in turn, has been adapted from Sustaining U.S.-China Cooperation in Clean Energy,  a book publication authored by Terry Cooke forthcoming from the Kissinger Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Institute in November 2011).

Premise

The Fukushima disaster in March has prompted all major nuclear powers to pause and reexamine their nuclear development programs. Germany and Italy reached decisions to phase out their nuclear programs.  In the U.S., stirrings of interest in a nuclear revival were silenced.  In China, however, all indications are that a national program to establish China as a global leader in nuclear power remains on track.

 Discussion

The first commercial nuclear power plant in the U. S. was installed in 1958. Today, 104 commercial reactors produce almost 20% of the nation’s total electric generation. By comparison, China’s first nuclear plant, Qinshan, near Shanghai, became operational in 1991. Today, 13 plants are in operation supplying just over 1% of China’s total electricity. However, this freeze frame comparison misses the contrast in momentum for the nuclear industry in the two countries. Of the 52 nuclear power plants that were either under construction or in advanced planning in America and China in late 2010, months before the Fukushima disaster, 50 of those plants were being planned and built for the Chinese market.

source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

As the above chart from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows, nuclear generation has plateaued  in the U.S. and Europe but is rapidly growing  in China, India and the rest of the developing world. While active plants in the U.S. are approaching the end of their licensed lifetime without planned replacement,  new nuclear installations in China are set to increase roughly ten-fold over the next ten years.

Following 1979’s Three Mile Island incident, the experience for the U.S. nuclear industry has been new order cancellation, new construction abandonment, premature shutdown of plants or extension without plans for replacement. Although improved design and technology advances have brought about significantly improved safety performance, public opposition to nuclear power — periodically galvanized by highly publicized international incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima and persistently bedeviled by the nuclear waste disposal problem– has kept the U.S. market virtually off-limits to new nuclear installations for three decades. China, by contrast, is the world’s most active site for new plant installations. National planning calls for nuclear power to provide 6% of China’s total electrical generation by 2020. This will require a net increase in installed capacity of 60-70 GW, comparable to the entire 63GW of currently installed nuclear capacity in France, one of the world’s most active users. By 2030, China plans to match the nuclear output currently provided by all 104 U.S. installations.

The bottom line:  Chinese authorities clearly know how to throttle back a prestige industrial development project, as shown after July’s high-speed train collision in Zhejiang Province.  After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, however, no such bureaucratic braking of China’s nuclear program has been apparent.  Additional safety reviews have been instituted, but the scale and speed of China’s nuclear program remains essentially unchanged.

 

(This piece has been reprinted from G+ Insights, a publication series of the Gerson Lehrman Group at www.gplus.com.  The G+ piece, in turn, has been adapted from Sustaining U.S.-China Cooperation in Clean Energy,  a book publication authored by Terry Cooke forthcoming from the Kissinger Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Institute in November 2011).

 

In 2008 China could be seen rapidly closing the gap with the traditional wind market leaders – the U.S., Germany and Spain. By 2009, China, riding a massive post-GFC stimulus program, became the world’s largest buyer of wind turbine equipment. In that same year, the U.S. managed to maintain its strong pace of wind installations but Spain and Germany started falling off the global pace as post-GFC austerity forced them to drop governmental price supports (so-called “feed-in-tariffs” or FiTs) for wind installations. Finally, in 2010, China surpassed the U.S. in wind-power installations (18.9GW vs. 5.6GW) and emerged as the clear global front-runner for wind-energy purchases and installations.

But three caution flags are now waving for China:

(1) For the moment, there is still a huge asymmetry in the number of installations which GE has made in the Chinese market (over 1,000 in China alone, over 14,000 worldwide ) versus the number of installations Chinese wind-power companies have made in the U.S. market (3 installations, as of December 2010). Moreover, lingering tight credit strongly favors established market leaders when it comes to wind energy projects and, for now at least, financing costs are currently prohibitive for new entrants.  This is a substantial market hurdle for Chinese entrants to the lucrative U.S. market, not a government barrier.

(2) In a mid-summer 2011 settlement announced by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Chinese government agreed to stop subsidizing its wind power manufacturers. This put an end to a six-year, WTO-inconsistent effort known as Notice 1204 and led by National Development and Reform Commission, to favor Chinese suppliers in the manufacture and installation of Chinese wind-turbines.

(3) Earlier this week, China’s government adopted stricter regulations in anticipation of an expected “bloodbath among turbine producers” as reported by the Financial Times on October 24th.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint to the wind-energy future. Far too early to proclaim China the winner.

We’re pleased to share here an invited submission by James Wheatcroft,  picking up and advancing the conversation from the previous post about rising levels of Chinese clean energy investment in various regions of the U.S. (as well as from the Jan 3rd  BusinessWeek article cited in that post).  Here’s the expert sounding which James takes on the rising level of Chinese investment. My conclusion? We’re in the trough of a wave.

China’s Suntech in Arizona — Reflections on Real-world Globalization by James Wheatcroft

“The move by Suntech to invest in a US manufacturing facility is positive news for Phoenix and a triumph for Barry Broome, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. Barry like thousands of regional business development organisations in the West are trying to figure out how to attract Chinese money into their area, and are prepared to offer grants and incentives to do so.

So: why have the Chinese done this?

Cynics would say that this is a move by the Chinese to circumvent US “Buy American” trade clauses. They would also say that this facility is tiny compared to the vast plants that Suntech and other Chinese PV manufacturers have in China. I say this is an emerging trend that will continue; in fact I know of another very large Chinese State Owned energy company that is seriously considering a European plant.

To me this is more about nationalism, carbon footprint and true globalisation.

Nationalism

There is a real national fervour in China these days. People and businesses are more confident and look to demonstrate this confidence abroad. China has long had a “go abroad” policy in many industries, and this reflects the fact that many State Owned Enterprises are awash with capital and are seeking to balance their portfolio of investments-  by investing outside China.

The logic is very obvious. If “Buy American” becomes a serious purchasing standard, the bar is raised in terms of price, allowing US wage levels to be built into the cost base. Therefore a small facility in the US becomes well worth the risk for Suntech.

Carbon Footprint

There is much talk in Europe about a possible tariff system based on carbon footprint. Certainly in the UK market, where I operate, regional councils and housing associations (who are all looking at installing panels), are beginning to include carbon footprint as a purchasing criterion. It is not a legal requirement but it is increasingly  being seen as a form of ‘best practice.’ In the long term, carbon footprint taxes on a Pan-European basis are possible. From a Chinese perspective therefore there  is now a good argument  that if you wish to win public sector business in the EU, you need to have a base in the EU..

Globalisation

Globalisation is no longer, as we saw in the late 20th – early 21st centuries, only about US and European companies either tapping global markets or sourcing from them. Chinese and Indian companies are already leading this investment trend. US PV makers that are feeling the pinch from Asia are building PV plants in China. This turnaround – where Chinese companies are feeling the pinch  from ‘Buy American’ clauses and building plant in the US,- is merely the next step in true globalisation, and if you ask Barry Broome or the 75 people working at Suntech Phoenix- they would tell you that they’re pretty happy about it.

James Maclean Wheatcroft, based in the UK is a consultant in the Chinese green energy, media and communications markets. His team of consultants on the ground in China has delivered more than $80 million per year in energy joint ventures. James is currently working with both Chinese and European companies and governments to benefit from the current boom in Chinese energy

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