Time to Export Energy Efficiency?

We keep hearing that China is going to become a really big deal in world energy markets. But it wasn’t until I read this statement by Jane Henley, CEO of the World Green Building Council, that I grasped the scope of its coming influence:

“China is projected to build the equivalent of 10 New York Cities over the next decade.”

For some, such rapid economic expansion by China is cause for fear. Others see opportunity. The US green energy markets were nudged toward the opportunity-seeker category this week with word from the Department of Energy of the nation’s first export strategy for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

It’s a funny place for us to be. We tend to be known on the international stage for our energy consumption. We are the world’s largest oil importer, and its third largest producer. And when it comes to green energy, the last few years have been marked by more imports than exports. A flock of international companies have established themselves in the US to build wind and solar energy, sometimes by buying out US companies.

Many US’ green energy companies simply do not export, according to the report “Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Export Initiative,” issued December 7 by the DOE and several other government agencies. The report pegs US export of renewable energy goods at about $2 billion last year. This isn’t a very big number when you consider that worldwide $162 billion in private capital went toward renewables and energy efficiency technologies and $183 billion in government stimulus funds.

While the report quantifies current US renewable energy exports, it has a tougher time defining the energy efficiency market, not an unusual problem for an industry that encompasses everything from home improvements to combined heat and power plants. However, the export market potential for energy efficiency technologies is “likely substantial,” the report said.

So if you want to export energy efficiency, what countries should you look to?

If you manufacture industrial energy efficiency equipment, clearly economically developed countries offer best opportunities Markets also are likely to be ripe for US imports if they consume more energy than they produce (Germany), or if they have high energy prices (Japan), according to the report.

Canada offers the best market for US building materials. Canada already imports more building materials from the United States than the next 20 export markets combined. Other top export markets for building materials include Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

If you plan to export electronics, appliances, and information and communication technologies, look to Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, and Singapore, with Canada and Mexico representing the major importers, according to the report.

The full report, which explains specific strategies and supports the US will offer green exporters, can be found here.

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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2 comments on “Time to Export Energy Efficiency?

It’s obvious that exporting any sort of commodity is a smart move. Yet one must assume that if these companies have chosen not to export for the time being, they’ve probably made all the calculations in the subject.

It seems to me that it is being slightly presumptuous to think that exporting energy efficiency technologies to China and India is likely to be a sustainable business. I personally suspect that it won’t be very long until the trade is running in the opposite direction.

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