U.S. Senators See Clean Energy in China First-Hand


A group of ten senior U.S. Senators visited China this week (the largest delegation of elected U.S. officials ever to visit the country). Their take-away? China is taking the lead on clean energy and giving the U.S. a run for its money on innovating the next generation of competitive industries.

I had a chance to catch up with the delegation led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and including Sen. Barbara Boxer, Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Dick Durbin as well as other leaders in Congress on clean energy and jobs issues. While here, they met with Vice President Xi Jinping as well as leaders of clean energy businesses.

Prior to leaving, Sen. Reid said he wanted to learn from China’s successful investments in renewable energy. These investments, totaling $54 billion in 2010, catapulted China ahead of the U.S. in terms of new wind installations last year by a factor of three. In his home state of Nevada, Sen. Reid is trying to ramp up clean energy industries, which because of a 20% commitment to renewables is expected to add 80,000 clean energy jobs by 2025 (pdf).

While the delegation was touring clean energy facilities and chatting with Chinese government leaders, a report bringing together a number of resources on China’s green success was released: The China Greentech Report 2011 (free with subscription). The 218-page document recounts the story of the phenomenal growth in green technology markets in recent years:

  • China’s R&D investments in clean energy increased 20% annually from 1995 to 2005.[1]
  • China’s State Grid Smart Grid Plan ($530 billion by 2020), which controls 80% of China’s electricity, could help abate as much carbon as all of Russia in 2009.[2]
  • Since China’s first LEED-certified building in 2005, green building floor area has doubled annually, but still remains a fraction of its potential.
  • High-speed rail lines now stretch 65% longer than Japan (and 12x longer than the U.S.)[3]

While the U.S. is facing high gas prices, Sen. Reid highlighted the role of clean energy: “If we do not want to be dependent on foreign oil, we must develop this sector of our economy. To say that China is leading in this market would be an understatement.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, energy security, in addition to all the environmental concerns, also drives China’s massive scale-up in renewables and efficiency improvements. As I wrote earlier this year, with complementary challenges and opportunities, through continued engagement from both the Chinese and U.S. governments, China and the U.S. are helping each other to realize their clean energy potentials.


This post was co-authored by NRDC China Climate Fellow Michael Davidson.

[1] Steinfeld, Edward S., Playing Our Game: Why China’s Rise Doesn’t Threaten the West (U. S.: Oxford University Press, 2010)

[2]  State Grid, State Grid Plan Final Report (Beijing, China: State Grid Corporation of China, 2009)

[3]  “High speed lines in the world,” International Union of Railways, 11 Jan 2011: http://www.uic.org/IMG/pdf/20110111_a1_high_speed_lines_in_the_world.pdf