Solar Power as Common Ground for U.S. and China?

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EarthTechling is calling the official state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao (to American President Barack Obama) a “meeting of the minds.”

Though not in so many words, and certainly not using those words, the message is clear. Presidents Jintao and Obama had one strong common interest: clean, renewable energy technologies like solar power, and the resultant energy security that such technology can deliver to both nations.

Political pundits are calling it the most important meeting between the two nations in the last 30 years (the last during the Carter administration, in 1979). That meeting expanded China’s industrial activity. This most recent one follows the same vein, as China in turn reportedly opens up its country to more U.S. imports.

While currency reforms will progress slowly, and the U.S. military may continue to fear China’s growing arms might, the two nations’ clean energy cooperation could be the basis for a sort of friendship made elusive by a devalued yuan and a global firepower ranking that sees China neck-and-neck with the U.S. (instead of in its former third-place slot).

According to a clean energy forum hosted by the Brookings Institution, and attended by China’s Minister of Science and Technology, Wan Gang, the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (announced in 2009, and purportedly expanded as of this latest visit) is the sort of engine that could drive both change and clean-energy progress.

Funded jointly by China and the U.S., the initiative aims at building energy efficiency, clean coal and clean vehicles. It also includes appliance efficiency ventures (Honeywell and Haier), best practices in energy efficiency product labeling, and about $45 billion in other new business ventures.

But the biggest venture, at least from my point of view, is the promotion of renewable energy technologies like solar power, and the joint NREL/China Electric Power Research Institute work on transmission planning and grid integration for solar and wind.

As the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, however, the nations did not – as called upon by environmental leaders – engage in a carbon emissions reductions plan. Then again, real progress seldom occurs by leaps and bounds, but rather by baby steps.

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