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China Is Winning Global Race To Make Clean Energy 346

Posted by timothy
from the comparative-advantage-oh-noes dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world's largest maker of wind turbines, has leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels, and is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants. These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China."
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China Is Winning Global Race To Make Clean Energy

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  • You think so? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 01, 2010 @06:58AM (#30979120)

    I suprised that this suprises some people. China has been securing large parts of the world's supply of rare earth elements / tantalum for quite some time. This should not really be news to anyone who has been paying attention.

  • Re:You think so? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Monday February 01, 2010 @07:00AM (#30979134) Journal

    I'm surprised that we can ignore all the toxic byproducts created by manufacturing solar panels and still call them "green".

  • Our Technology (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 01, 2010 @07:10AM (#30979192)

    "the most efficient types of coal power plants" All based on technology developed in the U.S. For instance, they were just in N.D. trying to learn(aka copy) more efficient ways of drying coal. You can spin the story however you want, it doesn't make it true. That's only what they are hoping to do. Never underestimate the ability of the world's engineers in developing new technology, and China's meger(spin word like "vault" and "leapfrog") ability to copy it.

  • by Glock27 (446276) on Monday February 01, 2010 @07:16AM (#30979212)

    These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China."

    You missed the most important point in the source article:

    and is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.

    These aren't "renewable" technologies, nor do they need to be. What they are, though, are the only realistic way of producing enough energy to power our society going forward.

    The new generation of nuclear reactors is completely safe, and disposing of the waste products is a completely solvable problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 01, 2010 @07:19AM (#30979228)

    All based on technology developed in the U.S.

    While you're focused on who invented what, the rest of the world forges ahead and the US spirals downwards into oblivion.

    You really don't get what's happening, do you.

  • Re:Congrats! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Monday February 01, 2010 @07:52AM (#30979378)

    Not sure I agree with you. When you're considering "expense", you also have to take into account quality, life expectancy and maintenance costs too. And while goods from China may be cheap, in my experience, well, they've been mostly crap, too. You get what you pay for. For a disposable product, or something that has a short life-time like shoes or a TV, it's not that important. For industrial equipment it is very important. If you offer me a turbine made in China or a turbine made in Germany, I will take the German one right away and not even think about the price difference. You might have an easier time setting up if you went with the Chinese, but I will be laughing when your turbines break down every 6 months... sure, you want to compete with me? OK... did I mention we'll be doing sales and promotions every time you break down and your inventory dries up?

          Of course there are shitty products made in Germany (or the US), too. Due diligence is always necessary. And I am sure there has to be Chinese companies willing to sacrifice greed and excessive profits for quality, too. However some countries have a good or bad reputation for a reason.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 01, 2010 @08:03AM (#30979434)
    Very insightful, I totally missed that Clinton was a Republican.

    Again, another big party lemming who can't be bothered to see that his favored party's leadership also accomplished nothing while in office.
  • Re:No worries (Score:5, Interesting)

    by malkavian (9512) on Monday February 01, 2010 @08:03AM (#30979436) Homepage

    Maybe not. China has all the money to invest in research, and they're copying the "brain drain" that made the US pre-eminent in research by making a very cushy life for people that head to China to perform research.
    What could so very easily happen is that China leverages its huge resources, targets them at research into energy, and gets "first past the post" on fusion. Then patents it. As the US has been very into all its legalities and IP agreements on a worldwide basis, it'd find that the only way to obtain Fusion would be to contract the Chinese companies to do the work. Or license it at a huge fee.

  • WRONG! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 01, 2010 @08:21AM (#30979538)

    WRONG! Have a look here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/an-open-letter-to-steve-levitt/

    Quote:

    "On average, about 200 Watts falls on each square meter of Earth’s surface, but you might preferentially put your cells in sunnier, clearer places, so let’s call it 250 Watts per square meter. With a 15% efficiency, which is middling for present technology the area you need is
    2 trillion Watts/(.15 X 250. Watts per square meter)

    or 53,333 square kilometers. That’s a square 231 kilometers on a side, or about the size of a single cell of a typical general circulation model grid box. "

  • by Lorien_the_first_one (1178397) on Monday February 01, 2010 @08:36AM (#30979618)
    I'm an American and a few years ago, I went to Vietnam to visit with family (someone married Vietnamese in the family). While I was there, I saw something really interesting in terms of a cultural bias. The Vietnamese have a very strong tendency to favor cooperation over competition. That's the duopoly. The last I heard, their economy was growing at 8% a year.

    The Japanese also demonstrated this with their desire to build one of the fastest, if not *the* fastest internet infrastructures in the world. The goal became a matter of national pride more than how a few executives could figure out how to line their pockets and still deliver lousy service while derailing every other effort to improve matters for consumers.

    The Vietnamese and the Japanese are essentially descendants of the Chinese so they would share the same cultural value of favoring cooperation over competition. They have demonstrated this value over and over again with their resilience through wars, economic strife and growing pains.

    In America, the profit motive seems to have priority over all other concerns in business. The profit motive overrules the desire to cooperate hands down, every time, at the firm level, and often within the firm. This behavior stems primarily from the desire to avoid shareholder lawsuits over share value in publicly held companies. Another motivating factor, in my opinion, is that executives who have so much money that they never have to work again start to see economics as a game of monopoly. Instead of being satisfied, they strive to get more and more. The result is that there is less and less for the rest of us to earn. Which brings "the rest of us" to the point that we can't even buy the stuff we make here, and we're getting to the point where we can't even buy the stuff "the captains of industry" want us to import from China.

    Competition is not a sin. It's a part of life. But competition taken to it's logical conclusion is the decline of America. Until we get it that we're a team together and that there are bigger problems to solve than how to dominate a market, we're going to face a serious decline in our standard of living relative to other nations.
  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Monday February 01, 2010 @09:05AM (#30979732)

    Our hatred of these projects is a recent thing too. The Hoover Dam wasn't met with this kind of derision. The Apollo Program wasn't met with this kind of derision (not until its last years, when the Norquist cancer started to metastasize).

    As for China --- it's an autocratic capitalist systems. Of course autocracies are more efficient than democracies. The problem is that they tend not to stay that way. Give China a generation or two, and assuming it doesn't transition to democracy in the meantime, we'll see a set of weak, ineffectual leaders who feel entitled to use their positions for personal gain.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 01, 2010 @09:21AM (#30979852)

    How about this then: China produces 95% of the worlds rare earth metals, which are absolutely essential for renewable energy technology (lot's of that stuff is for instance necessary for light permanent magnets used in wind turbines), armament industry and several other industries.

    They are not the only ones having rare earths, but they effectively killed off abroad production with low prices and processing policies. This means, that they not only have all the active mines for rare earths, but also the refining is done there.

    And they are continuously lowering exports since years.

    Bootstrapping the mining and processing of these resources again (not to mention the training of personal) will take years, and have some considerable effect on various industries (most notably the renewable energy one).

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday February 01, 2010 @09:26AM (#30979934)
    Actually, mechanical failure has been the biggest problem with wind turbines. The only thing that has solved that problem is a high degree of specialty precision engineering and precision manufacturing.

    I'll not be buying any wind turbines from China soon, thanks very much.
  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Monday February 01, 2010 @09:43AM (#30980134) Journal

    Let alone they don't have the EPA breathing down their necks to deal with the toxic crap that is a byproduct of solar panel manufacturing. I am sure if the US didn't have to worry about ensuring this stuff didn't get into the environment everybody would have solar panels on everything

    Sigh...How do you explain Denmark's success in not only using but also exporting windmills? It gets harder to explain when you consider Denmark's equivalent of the EPA has a few more teeth than the US version.

    In other words I think your post is toxic crap.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Monday February 01, 2010 @10:50AM (#30981010)
    You'll give just about anyone with a materials science or engineering background a heart attack. Look up "liquid metal embrittlement" to get an idea of the problems to overcome. Among other things you'll find out why mercury is banned on aircraft.
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Monday February 01, 2010 @11:04AM (#30981230)

    It's no surprise that as car companies come into this country, they go more to the South and a wide swath away from the unions. I believe Mercedes-Benz opened a plant in Alabama in the 1990s for this reason.

    Walmart also is anti-union; when a man up in Canada started a union in a store up there, Walmart shut it down rather than deal with the possible spread of unions throughout its workforce and as a warning.

    However, Costco is very minimally unions, something like 10-15% of its workforce, and it always has paid well. This comes from the philosophy of its founder (who paid himself 250k a year and it went down from there for Executives, years back).

    My friends wanted to do a convention in Philadelphia in 2008. But, because of unions (and not just location), renting the pretty medium hall would have cost 100K. So they held just outside Philly, for the same size hall, it came to 12K. Nearly 10% of the cost.

    Even unions find unions overpriced. You mention Germany, one of the biggest unions over there was found to have deplorable working conditions in its offices for its own employees - because they hire a mostly nonunionized workforce. Janitors and the like.

    Unions aren't always the way to good wages, I'm sure Google, Microsoft, etcetera, pay it's workers well. When entrenched, they seem to be completely inflexible, and worse, have an artificial monopoly on special powers given by the government.

    I almost wish unions were broken in two seperate entities: a workplace safety union that only striked and negotiated about workplace safety and working conditions. One where strikers couldn't be fired. Another union whose concern was pay and benefits, where strikers could be fired. They also wouldn't be allowed the same leadership or be able to strike at the same time as the previous safety union to avoid conflict of interest. The parent company has to operate in the free market, so should they.

    I would say even the high cost of living in America is borne by unions. One small example: compared to Europe, there is extremely high rent everyplace I go in America -- except maybe in the boondocks of the boondocks. I would suppose part of this is to offset the property/school taxes everyone (and every business) has to pay directly/indirectly. And schools have unionized teachers. I have relatives as teachers. At least in the richer suburbs, they get paid extremely well, if you add in the benefits and health care plan. Much better than many small businesses can eke out for their employees.

    In a lot of places in Europe, people want to be bureacrats of one sort or another. They even polled this in France. Why? Because they know if an f-ing secure job and overall well-to-do job in the long run. I would say it's the same here.

    And yes, there is a pay disparity in the America's top corporations. It is entrenched in American culture and is spreading (a decade ago, the CEO of DaimlerBenz made only $2M) outside it. I don't know how to solve that. It is unfortunate and seems to vary company by company, perhaps a symptom of Wall Street.

  • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Monday February 01, 2010 @11:16AM (#30981422)

    That's not exactly the whole story.

    The alarm the NYT is trying to raise (I think) is that we're paying China to manufacture the few big "clean energy" installations we're making. It's not that they won't buy from us in the future, it's that we're not even buying from us right now. Just like computer parts *could* be built anywhere, but we end up buying from Taiwan, Korea and Japan, we end up buying energy equipment (right now) from China, Spain and Germany.

    When we spend $100 million on a new wind farm, why does $80 million of that go overseas for high-tech design and manufacturing? It's stupid.

  • So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikeURL (890801) on Monday February 01, 2010 @11:46AM (#30981892) Journal
    I mean really...

    Over the years we have sent 100s and 100s of billions overseas for oil and that is essentially a consumable that leaves behind no capital infrastructure. A wind turbine is almost the exact opposite. It is a capital asset that actually continues to produce energy for at least 20 years (and probably longer with an aggressive maintenance schedule). If I have to choose between sending China money for plastic crap or money for wind turbines I'll choose the turbines.

    However, I'm not unaware that we also have an interest in being able to produce these "new economy" products locally. But it isn't like we can reverse 25 years of relative industrial decline overnight just because the politicos finally see something worth building in the US.
  • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rrohbeck (944847) on Monday February 01, 2010 @01:53PM (#30983774)

    When we spend $100 million on a new wind farm, why does $80 million of that go overseas for high-tech design and manufacturing?

    Because US subsidies go into things like bio-ethanol and fossil fuels so there's nothing left to incentivize alternative energy?

  • by thanasakis (225405) on Monday February 01, 2010 @05:17PM (#30987130)

    Unbelievable, you're right! [idcpc.org.cn] I counted 9 out of 11. Maybe that figures how they are able to advance in such huge steps.

If bankers can count, how come they have eight windows and only four tellers?

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