Is clean tech China's moon shot?

Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:32am EST
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By Gerard Wynn

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - So far, wind turbines are not Sputnik. But one day they could be.

The global race to develop clean technology is not just about who can build the best solar parks or wind farms. It is also shaping up as a contest between Chinese-style capitalism and the more market-oriented approach fancied by the United States and Europe.

The question comes down to this: will China's highly capitalized command-and-control economy trump laissez-faire in a low-carbon shift that is widely portrayed as the next industrial revolution?

The failure in Copenhagen to agree to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a new global climate treaty when it expires in 2012 has thrown the focus on national measures. And by almost all accounts, the Chinese are coming on strong.

Beijing's top leaders have made clear their intention to have their nation dominate this new industry, up and down the value ladder. And in their quest for the prize, they are not burdened by concerns facing their Western counterparts -- such as the impact of wind turbines on landscapes, higher energy prices for consumers, or investor returns.

"Developed markets need to be aware that China is gaining in this space," said David Russell, co-head of responsible investment at the 28 billion pound ($45 billion) British universities pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The recession has made it tougher for Europe and America to effect meaningful climate policy change. And with most major nations piling on debt to stimulate flagging economies, politicians likely will find it harder to earmark additional voter money for clean technology.

Instead, recession-hit Western economies are hoping the private sector can plug an estimated worldwide $150 billion annual funding gap to avoid more extreme droughts and floods.   Continued...

<p>Vanes are lift onto a windmill at Beijing's first wind farm which starts installing wind turbine generators on the outskirts of Huailai, north China's Hebei province July 23, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Lee</p>