Why a renewable energy boom in Asia could help the U.S.

Worth a quick read: The Financial Times is reporting that the big green pool of capital chasing cleantech investment is washing into Asia. A region as power hungry as Asia desperately needs the capital to speed up green energy capacity.

The alternative is scary: China is, in an oft repeated nugget, building one coal fired power plant every week. Each will last for decades, pumping co2 in the atmosphere. So great is the appetite for energy supplies that lower cost, larger capacity options such as coal are routinely crowding out green alternatives, even when green options are on offer. As the NYT recently reported, in China the relatively-low output volumes of renewable energy facilities makes them an also-ran to faster-to-build coal plants which are also cheaper to run, even if they sicken nearby populations.

China has enormous potential to do green energy in a big way. It’s building new capacity at a furious pace, has plenty of capital to pay for it, has an interest in lowering energy dependency on imports, and can get it done rapidly thanks to its proven, if brutal, style of centralized, objections-be-damned approach to project development. Evidence: the Three Gorges dam, the biggest most controversial renewable project ever built.

Next generation green energy need not go this way. For example, China and India both have vast, un-populated desserts with enormous potential for solar thermal capacity. Both have ample coast lines to explore offshore wind, following northern Europe’s lead. China is more likely to be able to the grid to connect such offshore wind or remote solar mega-facilities than are developers in the US, either with Cape Wind or at the big solar farms our Southwest. Another interesting wrinkle: with their low-cost, gargantuan manufacturing bases, both China and India have the potential to dramatically lower the cost of green energy systems, from wind to solar photovoltaic.

This could have a virtuous feedback back into developed markets. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to install a $99.99 mini-windmill in your own backyard, even if it is “Made in China”?

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