Cutt, Andy (2010) Is China winning the renewable energy race? Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.
China’s surging economy, increasingly urbanised population, and role as the ‘world’s factory’, has resulted in energy demand doubling every decade, and it overtaking the U.S. this year to become the largest consumer of energy worldwide. At 66%, the majority of that energy comes from coal, with the consequences of pollution and GHG emissions. In response, China’s government made renewable energy a national priority in 2005 with a target of 15% renewables by 2020, and introduced a raft of supporting legislation. Progress towards this goal has been impressive and in 2009 China leads in solar hot water, is second in wind power, and dominates wind turbine and PV manufacturing. However, the reaction of some in the U.S. has been to characterise this as a race between the two countries, with the stakes being green jobs, energy security, and even global economic leadership. Using this analogy of a race as a framework for my analysis, I look at the real positions of China and the U.S. in the deployment and manufacturing of renewables, and their capabilities in the areas of innovation, funding, and policy. With the help of a SWOT analysis I find that China is indeed making impressive progress in renewables compared to the U.S., and that this can be attributed to their ‘comparative advantage’ in manufacturing and effective government, versus America’s more dysfunctional approach. I go on to argue that renewable energy is in fact a positive sum game, and portraying it as a race distracts from the potential benefits of cooperation, and doing it regardless. Finally, renewable energy is placed in the broader geo-political context, and is shown to be of both strategic and ideological importance to the wider ambitions of the two nations.