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United States in Third Place in Developing Clean Energy Sources

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The United States has fallen to third place – behind China and Germany – in the development of clean energy sources, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Investment in global clean energy expanded significantly in 2010 to $243 billion, a 30 percent increase over 2009.  China, Germany, Italy and India were among the nations that were most successful at attracting private investments.  China solidified its position as the world’s clean energy leader.  Its 2010 investment record of $54.4 billion in 2010 represents a 39 percent increase over 2009.  Germany ranked second in the

G-20, up from third last year, after experiencing a 100 percent increase in investment to $41.2 billion.  The United States’ 2010 investment totaled just $34 billion, a 51 percent increase over the previous year.

“The United States’ position as a leading destination for clean energy investment is declining because its policy framework is weak and uncertain,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program.  She said that the U.S. could lag behind even more as competitors adopt renewable energy standards and incentives for investing in solar, wind and other forms of clean energy.  “We are at risk of losing even more financing to countries like China, Germany and India, which have adopted strong policies such as renewable energy standards, carbon reduction targets and/or incentives for investment and production,” Cuttino said.

“The United States remains the global leader in clean energy innovation, receiving 75 percent of all venture capital investment in the sector, a total of $6 billion in 2010, but the U.S. has not been creating demand for deployment of clean energy.  As a result it is losing out on opportunities to attract investment, create manufacturing capabilities and spur job growth.  For example, worldwide, China is now the leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels,” says Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

China’s goal is to install 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020; the European Union intends to generate 20 percent of its power from renewable sources over the same timeframe.  In the United States, 30 states have policies requiring utilities to buy more electricity from renewable sources.  Although the federal government has incentives in place to cut project costs, there’s no nationwide mandate for clean energy.

The website 247wallstreet.com believes it doesn’t really matter who leads the world in alternative energy creation – as long as global effort continue.  According to Douglas McIntyre, “Most of the data does not matter much.  The fact that China invests such a large amount in clean energy does not mean it will not sell products based on that technology to U.S. firms.  China will export manufactured wind and solar infrastructure just as it does everything else.  Green technology is hardly a strategic asset.  The Chinese are as anxious to make money from their investment as U.S. companies.  If any proof is needed, many Chinese and US alternative energy firms are listed on stock exchanges.  Green is a business as much as it is a movement.”

Unfortunately, McIntyre says, solar and wind energy are not as powerful a source as many believe.  Solar energy doesn’t work at night unless the user has a storage device such as a battery; cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable.  Solar technologies are also quite costly and need significant land to collect the sun’s energy at useful rates.  Wind energy is intermittent in most areas.  Additionally, wind turbines typically are not connected to the American power grid, making the energy it produces difficult to deliver effectively to places where it could replace coal-powered electricity.

McIntyre notes that “America has a nearly inexhaustible supply of coal.  Nuclear energy projects may be delayed by the effects of the Japan earthquake, but its growth in the U.S. is inevitable because the country needs to produce more energy within its borders.  Investment in solar and wind energy may be up, particularly in China.  That does not matter much if the two sources do not work as well as others that are currently available.”

Click here to read a discussion about nuclear power by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.