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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

When it comes to the future of electric cars, as with other green technologies, the wild card is China.

The People’s Republic has invested billions in renewable energy and has become a solar superpower in photovoltaic manufacturing. It’s also poised to one day potentially blow away the competition in wind turbine production. China’s new five-year plan calls for dramatic increases in energy efficiency and designates electric cars as a strategic industry. (The government has set a goal of five million electric cars on the roads by 2020.)

The country already is the world’s largest automotive market — General Motors now sells more cars there than in the United States — and its support of electric car and battery makers has attracted investors like Warren Buffett, who has put his money into EV manufacturer BYD.

So far, domestic demand in China for electric cars is tiny, even compared to the nascent U.S. market. According to a report from GTM Research — yes, that report has been a gold mine of data for posts this week — there are but 295 electric cars on the road in China. That’s not a typo. Not that the U.S. is exactly racing down the electric highway, as there are only 2,000 electrics in service here, the report says.

But other numbers in the report foreshadow China’s potential to dominate the electric car market.

The Chinese government’s $17 billion investment in the electric car industry so far outstrips the $5 billion the U.S. government has put into EVs. China has 120 domestic automakers compared to 13 in the U.S. And most telling, some 33,200 people work in the Chinese lithium-ion battery industry, compared to 1,100 here. By 2020, GTM Research estimates that new car sales will reach 27.5 million annually in China compared to 17 million in the U.S.

“How aggressively China will mandate EVs is one of the more interesting considerations in looking at the global market potential, as this nation now has the means to affect not only global production, but also the global demand for electric vehicles,” wrote David J. Leeds, the report’s author.

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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared on November 30, 2010.

A day after Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s “Sputnik speech,” in which he warned that China was investing billions in renewable energy while American politicians bickered over small-potatoes stimulus spending on green technology, a report from Ernst & Young released Tuesday confirmed Asia’s ascendancy.

“A new world is emerging in the clean energy sector with China now the clear leader in the global renewables market,” the report’s authors wrote.

Ernst & Young publishes a quarterly “country attractiveness” index for investors that ranks nations’ renewable energy policies, renewable energy markets, and other factors.

China took first place — again — ousting the U.S. from the spot it had occupied between 2006 and 2010.

“China’s record spending on its wind industry this quarter represented nearly half of all funds invested in new wind projects around the world,” the report states. “Figures released for the second quarter of 2010 showed that China invested around $10 billion in wind out of a global total of $20.5 billion.”

Half the wind turbines that will come online this year worldwide will have been made in China, according to the report.

“Since reaching top spot in our index in September, China has opened up a healthy gap from other markets,” Ben Warren, an Ernst & Young executive, said in a statement. “Cleantech, including renewable energy, represents a significant part of the country’s future economic growth plans.

“The level of wind energy being deployed in China shows what can be achieved with a carefully planned energy and industrial policy that elevates cleantech to a national strategic level,” he added. “The Chinese solar industry is also fast becoming of great importance in the global marketplace.”

And China clearly has its eye on the U.S. market. As I wrote last week, one of China’s largest solar companies has formed a joint venture with California startup SolarReserve to build photovoltaic power plants in the desert Southwest.

And it’s not just China the U.S. has to worry about in the green energy race. According to Ernst & Young, South Korea, Romania, Egypt, and Mexico are rising fast as their governments devote more resources to renewable energy.

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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

The same day this week that The New York Times published an extensive report by correspondent Keith Bradsher on China’s massive subsidies for renewable energy companies, Ernst & Young released a study showing that, not surprisingly, China has overtaken the United States as the most attractive place for green tech investment.

“China’s steady rise to pole position has been underpinned by strong and consistent government support for renewable energy,” Ben Warren, Ernst & Young’s environment and energy infrastructure advisory leader, said in a statement. “This, together with substantial commitment from industry and the sheer scale of its natural resources, means that its position as top spot for renewable energy investment is well merited.”

Some of that government support may violate World Trade Organization rules. On Thursday, an American union, the United Steelworkers, filed an unfair trade complaint against China with the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

But the Ernst & Young report points to failures on the part of the U.S. government to take action that would attract green investors.

For one thing, Congress has so far failed to establish a national Renewable Energy Standard that would require the country’s utilities to obtain a certain percentage of electricity from non-carbon-emitting sources.

Also, a federal tax subsidy program that is spurring construction of big solar power plants expires at the end of the year and legislation to extend the incentives is languishing in Congress.

“Although the United States remains a highly attractive location for investors in renewable energy, it is clear that recent events have eased momentum,” said Warren. “The U.S. market continues to have significant potential but requires consistent legislative support to provide investors with the long-term confidence they need.”

China, in contrast, “aims to reach an installed capacity of 300GW [gigawatts] of hydro, 70GW of nuclear, 100GW of wind, and 20GW of solar capacity by 2020,” according to the Ernst & Young study.

Reports by the U.S. Energy Information Agency provide a glimpse of the green imbalance of trade between the two countries. The figures from 2008 — apparently the latest available from the government — show that fewer than 1 percent of U.S.-made solar modules were shipped to China while nearly 23 percent of Chinese-made photovoltaic modules were exported to the U.S.

Since then, Chinese imports have risen dramatically. At the end of 2009, for instance, Chinese firms supplied about half the California solar market alone, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consulting firm.

What China is not exporting, of course, is green jobs.

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This post first appeared on Grist.

Green tech is back in the green.

Global venture capital investment in green technology companies reached $4.04 billion in the first half of 2010, exceeding – slightly — the record set in the boom year of 2008, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the Cleantech Group and Deloitte.

Venture investment in the second quarter rose to $2.02 billion, up 43 percent from the year-ago quarter. Investments in the first half of the year spiked 65 percent from the same period in 2009.

“There’s been a very clear resurgence in solar activity and that is largely responsible for the strong quarter,” Richard Youngman, the Cleantech Group’s head of global research, said on a conference call Thursday.

Solar captured $811 million, or about 40 percent, of green technology investment in the second quarter, according to the Cleantech Group, a San Francisco-based consulting and research firm. It defines the global market as consisting of North America, China, India, Israel and Europe.

Solyndra, a Silicon Valley thin-film solar panel maker, scored a $175 million investment while solar power plant builder BrightSource Energy took in $150 million.

It’s no coincidence that both companies have been the beneficiaries of the Obama administration’s push for renewable energy. Solyndra received a $535 million loan guarantee to build a new factory in the San Francisco Bay Area (which the president visited in May) and BrightSource was granted a $1.37 billion loan guarantee to get its first solar thermal power plant online.

Despite the recession, corporate America poured a record $5.1 billion into green tech companies in the first half of 2010, a 325 percent increase from a year ago.

“The significant strengthening of corporate and utility investment into the cleantech sector, relative to 2009, is very encouraging, given the key role they will play in enabling broader adoption of clean technologies at scale,” Scott Smith, partner, Deloitte’s U.S. clean tech leader in the United States, said in a statement.

Youngman warned not to read too much into the success this week of Tesla Motor’s initial public offering. Though the Silicon Valley electric carmaker’s share price accelerated some 40.5 percent on opening day, he pointed out that high-profile IPOs from Solyndra and Goldwind, a Chinese wind turbine maker, were pulled recently.

In fact, head east if you want to get in on a booming IPO market –12 of the 19 green tech offerings in the second quarter came from Chinese companies and raised $1.73 billion, or 75 percent of the total IPO take, according to the Cleantech Group.

The flip side, of course, is that the anemic IPO market in the United States also is driving venture capital investment as green tech firms are forced to raise private money.

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In The New York Times on Monday, I write about IBM’s new smart grid lab in Beijing that will develop technology for the global market:

In another sign of China’s emergence as an epicenter of green technology, I.B.M. has opened a lab in Beijing to develop smart grid software for the global market.

“We’re developing solutions for around the world but we’re looking to China to see how the pieces integrate across the value chain,” said Brad Gammons, I.B.M.’s vice president for sales and distribution for the company’s Energy and Utilities division.

Mr. Gammons himself has relocated to Beijing, where he will continue to oversee worldwide sales for the unit.

“The company made a decision that China is a very, very important growth market and to put some executives here,” he said in a telephone interview from Beijing. He said I.B.M. expects the new Energy & Utilities Solutions Lab to drive $400 million in revenue over the next four years.

It is operating out of I.B.M.’s 5,000-person China Development Laboratory. The new lab is working with the State Grid Corporation of China on pilot projects to integrate wind and solar power with the grid, manage grid operations and increase the efficiency of nuclear power plants.

The Chinese government has budgeted $7.3 billion for smart grid-related energy projects this year, according to ZPryme Research & Consulting, a firm based in Austin, Tex.

Mr. Gammons said electric cars will be one focus of I.B.M.’s new lab.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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In The New York Times last week, I wrote about how Yingli, the Chinese solar module maker, is heading east after capturing nearly a third of the California market last year:

Yingli, the Chinese solar module maker that captured nearly a third of the California market last year, has struck a deal to supply a New Jersey developer with more than 10 megawatts of photovoltaic panels.

The agreement announced Tuesday with SunDurance Energy for the first time brings  Yingli’s reach to the East Coast. SunDurance, owned by a construction and engineering firm, the Conti Group, will install the Yingli solar panels on rooftops, in carports and in ground-mounted solar farms.

“Being able to have a presence on both coasts and in some of the other states that are emerging is very significant for us,” Robert Petrina, the managing director for Yingli’s American operations, said.

He said Yingli shipped 15 megawatts of modules in the fourth quarter of 2009 in the United States. The deal with SunDurance calls for Yingli to provide 10 megawatts through the third quarter of this year. The company had previously supplied solar panels to SunDurance for other projects.

Yingli, based 100 miles south of Beijing in the city of Baoding, opened offices in New York and San Francisco at the beginning of 2009. By year’s end, the company held 27 percent of the California market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm. Its stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Chinese firms, including the Yingli rival Suntech, increased their share of the California market to 46 percent, up from 21 percent at the beginning of 2009.

Mr. Petrina said declines in the price of polysilicon — a vital ingredient in solar cells — and in subsidies paid by European countries made it feasible for Yingli to enter the American market.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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In The New York Times on Thursday, I write about a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance that shows China has become the dominant solar module supplier in the huge California market:

China’s rise as a major solar module maker has been meteoric, but perhaps nowhere has its ascension been faster than in California, the United States’ largest solar market.

The Chinese company Yingli Solar has captured 27 percent of California’s solar market, according to a preliminary report.
Over the last three years, China’s share of the California market, in terms of supplied megawatts, has risen to 46 percent, from 2 percent, according to a preliminary report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm.

At the same time, the share supplied in California by American companies has declined to 16 percent, from 43 percent.

“The ascendancy of Chinese manufacturers would be noteworthy regardless of market conditions, but is particularly telling in a time when purse-strings are still tight,” the report said.

At the beginning of 2009, Chinese solar companies supplied 21 percent of the market; by year’s end their stake had more than doubled.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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