US grabs lead over China in clean energy race

Apr 12, 2012 by Kerry Sheridan
The United States has regained the lead in the clean energy race, investing $48 billion last year to surpass China, which held the world's top spending spot since 2009, said a study Wednesday.

The United States has regained the lead in the clean energy race, investing $48 billion last year to surpass China, which held the world's top spending spot since 2009, said a study Wednesday.

The US surge in was a 42 percent increase over 2010 and saw Washington maintain its lead worldwide in both venture capital and research and development cash, said the Pew Charitable Trusts annual report on .

However, the US boom was largely driven by expiring , highlighting "a persistent phenomenon in which the country fails to deploy into the marketplace the clean energy innovations it creates in the laboratory," it said.

China, which fell to second, invested $45.5 billion last year, a one percent increase over 2010, but maintained its global lead in wind and in solar manufacturing, said the report.

Experts say a key difference between the and China is in how they attract investment -- China by having solid green that reassure investors and the United States by offering tax breaks for investment.

"China has been able to fuel its growth by having very consistent and long-term policies in place that really tell investors there is an opportunity for them to make a profit," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's Clean Energy Program.

"The United States has no renewable energy but they have decided to try and incentivize clean energy investment through a variety of tax incentives, tax credits, tax subsidies, ," she told AFP.

Some of those programs were instituted under the George W. Bush administration and some under President , she said.

"What we saw this year was investors really rushed into the United States to take advantage of those tax credits before they expired."

The Pew report, which focused on private investment in Group of Twenty (G20) nations, also found that total worldwide private investment rose 6.5 percent over 2010 to a record level of $263 billion.

"Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and India were also among the nations that most successfully attracted private investments last year," it said.

Germany ranked third in 2011 after soaring to second place in 2010 as it ramped up both solar and wind power. Private investment dropped five percent last year compared to 2010.

"Germany now obtains more energy from renewable sources than it does from nuclear power, coal, or natural gas," said the report, adding that Italy has also surged, surpassing Germany's deployment of 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar.

Italy installed eight GW of solar energy nationwide and investments grew 38 percent to $28 billion, offsetting declines in other parts of Europe as the region struggles with a troubling debt crisis.

"Europe has been a traditional leader, in terms of attracting private investment. Last year they attracted $99 billion in private investment as a region," said Cuttino.

"But Asia and Oceania is a region of the world that is quickly growing so we keep thinking the center of the clean energy economy is moving to this region. They were second in the world attracting $71 billion."

India had the highest rate of growth among G20 nations as investment rose 54 percent to $10.2 billion, largely driven by its National Solar Mission that aims to install 20 GW by 2020.

Japan saw a 23 percent rise to $8.6 billion dollars "and we think there is going to be more growth in Japan as they kind of move away a bit from nuclear power," added Cuttino.

Australia also saw private investment rise 11 percent to $4.9 billion, with four billion of that sum going toward small residential solar projects.

"They have a newly instituted carbon policy and that is the third highest level of investment per GDP (among G20 countries), so they are doing quite well," said Cuttino.

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Eikka
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2012
"Germany now obtains more energy from renewable sources than it does from nuclear power, coal, or natural gas,"


Which is a misleading statement, because when you combine them all, the renewables share is still dwarfed at around 20%, and the kind of renewable power that need the subsidies - solar and wind - represent 10% of the total share.

The "persistent phenomenon in which the country fails to deploy into the marketplace the clean energy innovations it creates in the laboratory," is just a result of the fact that the markets won't accept a product that isn't worth its cost without being forced to. Germany has put on the order of $130 billion into solar power, and achieved just slightly over 3% share of solar power in the grid, and is now phasing back the subsidies because of the horrendous cost of it.

If you really want to rank countries in a race to clean energy, rank them by what they've actually achieved - not how much money they are wasting in it.
Eikka
1.3 / 5 (3) Apr 12, 2012
And the fact that solar power accounts for about 3% of the energy in the grid is still hiding the fact that electricity is not the only form of energy used. There's ten times more going on outside of the grid.

Putting things into perspective, renewable energy hasn't even began to scratch the surface of replacing fossil fuels. All the efforts in improving the situation so far have amounted to pretty much zilch.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2012
Germany has put on the order of $130 billion into solar power,

30 billion subsidies (not 130 billion). For all alternative forms of power. Combined. 65 billion if you include everything until 2020.
200 billion for coal. Alone. Not counting future costs
180 billion for nuclear. Alone. Not counting future costs.

Note that nuclear also only produces electricity. And if you think that nuclear is worthwhile then alternatives should already have surpassed nuclear on your 'worthwhile' list - especially at what percentage of demand is being met in terms of how much in subsidies went/is going into it.
You are right that energy is more than electricity - but you have to start somewhere. As soon as the automotive sector moves from fossil to electricity (either using batteries or via some intermediary like hydrogen/synthic hydocarbons) things will look different. And that shift WILL come. Fossil fuels won't remain affordable (economically or ecologically) for much longer.
mcausal
5 / 5 (3) Apr 12, 2012

30 billion subsidies (not 130 billion).

Which is roughly the amount in euros that went into subsidizing the development of research reactors in Germany, btw.

The costs to deal with spent nuclear fuel are non-calculable. The ecological and political costs for staying on fossil neither, e.g. wars, corrupt regimes, etc..

With a predicted failure every 10.000 years per nuclear power plant and currently around 430 nuclear plants worldwide, someone is dealing with a worst case scenario every 23 years (statistically).
The cleanup costs at Fukushima are projected to amount to $250 billion during the next decade (not accounting for the fact that most fallout was dumped into the pacific)
Thats why no insurer is willing to fully collateralize a nuclear plant.

a study from citigroup entitled "New Nuclear The Economics Say No" is to be found here
https://www.citig...27102.pd
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2012
With a predicted failure every 10.000 years per nuclear power plant and currently around 430 nuclear plants worldwide, someone is dealing with a worst case scenario every 23 years (statistically).


And here's an example of the common fallacy called All-Nuclear-Plant-Failures-Are-Chernobyls. And the predicted failure rate only applies to individual reactor types and implementations thereof. Claiming that every nuclear powerplant has a probability of once every 10,000 years is like saying that Skodas break as often as BMWs because they both run on petrol.

It is interesting however, that criticism towards wind and solar power, and renewable energy subsidy policies in general is met not with counter-arguments but with a red herring debate about nuclear power.

I re-iterate:

If you really want to rank countries in a race to clean energy, rank them by what they've actually achieved - not how much money they are wasting in it.
mcausal
5 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2012

Claiming that every nuclear powerplant has a probability of once every 10,000 years is like saying that Skodas break as often as BMWs because they both run on petrol.


No its like saying that they both have a statistical lifespan of 150k km, because they both run on internal combustion engines.


If you really want to rank countries in a race to clean energy, rank them by what they've actually achieved - not how much money they are wasting in it.


agreed. even though investing more money will likely yield faster progress.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2012
And if you think that nuclear is worthwhile then alternatives should already have surpassed nuclear on your 'worthwhile' list - especially at what percentage of demand is being met in terms of how much in subsidies went/is going into it.


You're making the mistake of calculating cumulative subsidies for nuclear/coal/etc. over decades, versus money spent on renewables only since the subsidy policies started.

Some of the renewables also don't recieve subsidies, like water power or burning scrap biomass/biogas, because they are profitable as is, and they are what actually makes most of the renewable energy. If you remove those from the calculation, the case looks pretty bleak for wind and solar.

Euros per Joule, wind and solar energy have been vastly more expensive in Europe than almost anything else, and there's a solid trend with renewable power and electricity prices with the highest prices where there's the most wind or solar energy, with Germany and Denmark leading the pack
Eikka
2.5 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2012

No its like saying that they both have a statistical lifespan of 150k km, because they both run on internal combustion engines.


Yet some cars are likely to last half a million kilometers, and others aren't. The question is, what kind of a car do you want to buy.

Just because there exists nuclear reactors designed in the 1950's still in operation doesn't mean that nuclear power is doomed to one breakdown in 23 years. Most of those reactors will be decommissioned within the next 23 years anyways and hopefully replaced with more modern ones, with better safety design and control.
mcausal
5 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2012

Yet some cars are likely to last half a million kilometers, and others aren't. The question is, what kind of a car do you want to buy.

[..]Most of those reactors will be decommissioned within the next 23 years anyways and hopefully replaced with more modern ones, with better safety design and control.


I think the point is if you would manage to have all cars last for half a million km, there would still be a car breaking down at 200k km due to unforseable events. In the case of a car that might be ok. In the case of a nuclear meltdown it is not.
Don't get me wrong, i am not against nuclear per se. But to build a plant that is save against all odds is economically not feasible. All odds being quakes, tsunamis, plane crashes, terrorism, small meteorites and what not.
Even if we manage to triple the 10k years to say 30k years, it would still mean a worst case event every 70 years (statistically).
But besides the odds of failurehttps://www.citig...7102.pdf
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2012
over decades, versus money spent on renewables only since the subsidy policies started.

Already including future ones. Solar subsidies have already been slashed by 30%. 2020 the last subsidies will run out. That's it. So cumulative comparison is fair: it's cumulative for both.

and they are what actually makes most of the renewable energy
Wind makes double of what hydro does (Wind generated as much energy as water and biomass combined). Solar is already barely ahead of hydro.
Hydro isn't going to be increasing much (unless someone comes up with a good wave energy generator)

Alltogether these sources provide 10% of primary energy usage. That's not half bad.

Solar and wind is already competitive (and if you'd stop subsidies for coal and nuclear today already below price of those). Prices have been dropping incredibly fast in that sector.
Infinion
1 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2012
it's pretty sad that people think nuclear isn't a clean alternative energy source. Of the thousands of methods to achieve nuclear fission, everyone believes that the only way to do so is by using light and heavy water breeder reactors that need so many fail-safes because the reactors work at high pressure to produce power from the 1000:1 ratio of steam and water.

Lurker2358
1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2012
is just a result of the fact that the markets won't accept a product that isn't worth its cost without being forced to.


where the hell do you get this BS?

We've done the maths on this stuff before, and wind farms and solar boilers absolutely pay for themselves over and over again.

In fact, the wind farms produce so much energy in some cases that the damned hydro power companies demanded the wind companies quit producing power during flood season!!

It's true. they had the problem that they literally couldn't sell the power because they had more than was needed! A better, smarter grid technology could easily solve that problem, as it's a "good" problem to have.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2012
that 250MW solar power plant?

If they sell the power at 11 cents per kilowatt hour, like Louisiana's prices, it would be worth $90.4 million per year.

I'm sure they get a LOT more than 11 cents in places like California, so they probably get more like $120 million to $130 million per year per 250 megawatts.

I only counted 9 hours per day of operation, as per the operator's comments on that video, to be on the safe side and ensure I'm not over-estimating, so if anything I may be slightly under-estimating max energy production...
NotAsleep
3 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2012
So if the USA is #1 in clean energy but China is #1 in solar and wind then where is the USA putting its money?
kaasinees
2.6 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2012
So if the USA is #1 in clean energy but China is #1 in solar and wind then where is the USA putting its money?

Failed capitalism.
Sanescience
3 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2012
I'm wondering where people get their numbers. All kinds of numbers get thrown out, so I look up sites and the numbers don't match.

Try here:

http://205.254.13...text.cfm

shows that wind and solar combined has not yet reached hydro. Is there numbers someplace else that contradicts the EIA?

And nuclear power is a crazy topic where people don't bother reading up on the issues and no one cares to compare relative damage to the environment by other energy sources and make inane analogies about it's technology.

Don't get me wrong, I'm appalled that LWR designs from the 50's is what we have been stuck with. That inefficient waste producing design was clearly both premature and from an era when science was more "arrogant". And more are being built because extremists have frozen the ability to develop and gain experience building effective efficient non-wasteful reactors.

As for "Failed Capitalism", had to dig deep in the cliche bucket for that one eh?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2012
I think something is missing from the article:
45.5 billion dollars will buy you a lot more research, development and manufacturing capabilities in China than 48 billion will buy you in the US.
So the term 'lead' in the energy race may be inappropriately applied here
NotParker
1 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
Reality:

"the the operating hours of wind power generating units dropped by 144 hours in 2011, despite an increase of 48.16 per cent in on-grid wind power capacity, and that of solar power generating units also declined, in spite of the tripling of installed capacity of solar PV."

http://www.waterp...=2062180

Renewables are a waste of money.
mcausal
not rated yet Apr 14, 2012
Appologies for just throwing in that 10k year number without providing a source. The original source is a study by the german ministry of science and technology - GRS_1989 (for german reactors).

Here is a more recent source from 2010 which states:

"IAEA target values for core damage frequency (CDF)
for existing plants: 10-4 per reactor-year
for future plants: 10-5 per reactor-year"

http://www.lsa.et...dout.pdf

And sorry for being OT.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.2 / 5 (37) Apr 14, 2012
20 years ago, anti-environmentalists were insisting that reaching 20% renewable energy was impossible.

Once again, their whining complaints and projections have been shown to be false, and based on fear rather than reality.

"Which is a misleading statement, because when you combine them all, the renewables share is still dwarfed at around 20%," - Eikka
NotParker
1 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
20 years ago, anti-environmentalists were insisting that reaching 20% renewable energy was impossible.


"Hydroelectricity is the largest producer of renewable power in the United States. "

Hydro produces 16% of the worlds electricity.

And the IPCC says it produces more GHG's than fossil fuels.

http://www.newsci...led.html