California, as the Global Cleantech 100 list published in the Guardian confirms, is still hot. Thirty-two of the rising stars in solar panels, energy efficiency, biofuels and more are based there.
But while the sunshine state and the US as a whole are still world leaders in innovating and selling green technology, as this map shows, it’s also clear the Earth’s axis for “cleantech” is shifting.
China holds just four slots on the top 100 list today, for companies working on solar lamps, LED lighting, waste treatment and batteries (China’s low showing on the list is partly because the criteria, which focuses on innovation, excludes firms listed on major stock exchanges). But you can expect that number to shoot up as the “unstoppable upward path” of the country’s low-carbon economy accelerates.
China now has three of the top 10 global wind turbine makers, about 50% of the global solar market and produced the world’s first solar billionaire several years ago. The Chinese government spent an eye-popping $34.6bn (£22bn) on such industries last year – almost double what the US spent, according to report earlier this month.
The green dragon’s ascendancy has clearly rattled some cages. The EU’s commissioner for climate action last month warned the US and Europe face losing out to China. “Who is going to get the biggest slice of this pie? A global competition is already well under way. And it is clear that China’s huge ambitions make it a formidable competitor for both Europe and the US,” Connie Hedegaard told an audience at Harvard Kennedy School in the US.
A damning report by the Centre for American Progress this year ranked the US 19th in the world for selling cleantech products such as wind turbines and solar panels, when the sales were expressed as a proportion of the country’s GDP. Even cash injections from the likes of Google, which yesterday said it was investing in a subsea cable network off the eastern seaboard to support a huge 6GW of offshore wind power (tens of thousands of turbines), are unlikely to tilt the balance.
The competitive power of British companies, which took an impressive 10 places on the list, is looking even more uncertain. The UK has the highest level of installed offshore wind turbines on the planet, and the largest single offshore farm. But last week it emerged that the £60m port upgrades vital to handle giant offshore turbines are likely to be cut as part of the government’s spending review a week from today. And even if offshore does continue to march ahead in the UK, it’s unlikely many of the jobs will be created in Britain – most of the turbines are made in Germany, Denmark, the US and, yes, China.
One of the few embyronic cleantechs that the UK could lead on – capturing carbon emissions at power stations – doesn’t look too rosy either. The levy required to build large-scale “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) plants is also a candidate for the government’s axe: a move that would be “disastrous”, UK parliament was told this week.
Ultimately, this is a race that comes down to money. And China, with that colossal $34.6bn spend, is opening a gap that even Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists are unlikely to be able to close.
Article by Adam Vaughan, appearing courtesy Earth & Industry.