Don’t let China win the green race America should be leading the way on clean energy, not falling behind.
Washington is consumed with discussion about the consequences of a rising China, from trade disputes to their aggression in the South China Sea. There’s comparably little debate about how the United States can shape the environment into which China is rising, let alone the actions we can take at home to ensure America’s values prevail. We see more focus on tariffs than building wind turbines and solar farms. Americans should not be spectators in shaping our own future, or the world’s. We should pledge that by the end of the next decade, America will surpass China and win the clean energy race.
The United States isn’t winning the clean energy race today. In many ways, we aren’t even trying. China is becoming an energy superpower. Earlier this year, the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation reported that China became the world’s largest producer, exporter, and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles, followed by Japan and Germany. The United States ranks fourth.
China surpassed the United States for the lead in renewable energy technology, too, with 150,000 patents – making up 30 percent of the world’s total. America is second with just over 100,000 patents, while Japan and the European Union follow with about 75,000 each.
In 2015, China surpassed the United States to become the largest electric vehicle market and is on pace to dominate production for the next 20 years. Chinese electric vehicles account for 60 percent of global sales: 876,000 vehicles were produced last year compared with 361,000 in America.
The Chinese is doing things America is afraid to do. They offer citizens large subsidies for purchasing electric vehicles from state-owned companies. Municipalities waive fees for electric vehicle owners. The city of Shenzhen, which has a population of 12.5 million people, runs a 100 percent electric vehicle bus fleet and is, by fiat, converting 22,000 taxis to electric vehicles.
High-speed rail also is integral to China’s strategy. It has the largest high-speed railway in the world, with 19,000 miles of track and most major cities connected by the network. The United States has less than 500 miles. America’s fastest train takes 19 to 22 hours from New York to Chicago, whereas the same distance in China takes four-and-a-half hours.
Unless America has a strategic plan, China may become the OPEC of the 21st-century energy industry. It’s folly to replace a world order too dependent on Middle East oil with one that’s too dependent on Chinese technology.
America can mobilize around a national strategy to lead the world in clean technology that will attract bipartisan support from both coasts and the heartland.
How? Just think about the options it could explore. America could expand the electric vehicle tax credit, making it fully refundable at the time of purchase. That means a person wouldn’t have to wait a year for their tax refund but would receive money back immediately when buying an electric vehicle. If these credits are tied to domestic manufacturing, private sector jobs will return to auto industry towns.