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China is spending nearly three times as much on clean energy as the U.S.

Whether it's the smartphone market or high-speed rail, China has either surpassed the U.S. or is expected to surpass the U.S. in many sectors.  According to a new report [PDF] by the non-partisan Pew Research Center, clean energy is no exception to this trend; 2012 marketed the first year China assumed the title of king of clean energy, bumping the U.S. down the stack.

The U.S was clean energy's "biggest loser", according to the Pew report, with American clean energy investment (which excludes research and development spending) falling to $35.6B USD in 2012 -- a 37 percent plunge.  That fall helped trigger an 11 percent decline in global spending, which dipped to $269B USD in 2012.

Meanwhile in China the opposite was happening.  Owing to the strong growth, Asia's clean energy sector grew 16 percent as the global market contracted.  Buoyed by China, clean energy investment in the sector soared to $101B USD last year -- 42 percent of the global total. 

Clean energy spending
Fueled by China, Asia became the top clean energy region in 2012. [Image Source: PRC]

The Pew report comments:

The competition among countries for clean energy leadership is resulting in a reshuffling of the old order. In 2012, China advanced its position as the epicenter of clean energy finance, attracting $65.1 billion in investment, 20 percent more than in 2011 and an unsurpassed 30 percent of the G-20 total.  It garnered 25 percent of all solar energy investment, setting a one-year record with $31.2 billion invested. China also accounted for 37 percent of all wind energy investment ($27.2 billion) and 47 percent of the investment in the “other renewable energy” category ($6.3 billion) that includes small hydro, geothermal, marine, and biomass.
All told, 23 GW of clean energy generating capacity was installed in China in 2012.

Although the United States invented many of the leading clean energy technologies, it continues to underperform in investment and deployment relative to the size of its economy and its history in the field. 

China has been spending big on nuclear, wind, and solar power installations.

China windmills
Chinese windmills turn on a hillside. [Image Source: Thinkstock]

Aside from China, developing nations also showed strong growth.  Nations outside the pack of the world's twenty richest nations -- the so-called Group of 20, or G-20 -- saw roughly $20B USD in green energy spending, a 50 percent rise.  Solar and other technologies are increasingly being considered to provide low-cost power in remote regions.

Speaking of solar, that's one bright spot amid the general decline in investment.  With heavy investment in small, residential projects, solar only declined 1.6 percent to $76.8B USD in 2012.  A record 3.2 gigawatts (GW) of solar power was installed in the U.S. last year.  Residential solar saw a 42 percent growth.

The U.S. and others have long cited China as the world's biggest polluter. Now it can revel in the distinction of being the "greenest" power-producing superpower.

Source: Pew Research Center [PDF]

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By Solandri on 4/23/2013 4:35:34 PM , Rating: 5
The only reason China has worse pollution is because of their population and their relatively smaller land mass compared to United States.

No, it's because they get the vast majority of their energy from coal, which is by far the dirtiest and worst energy source available. China's coal consumption almost equals that of the rest of the world combined. Put all that coal pollution into 6.4% of the world's landmass and you get a very, very dirty country.

Also, while U.S. energy consumption per capita is higher, energy intensity (consumption per $ of GDP) is lower. In other words, the U.S. is more efficient, and gets more useful stuff done/made per unit of energy consumed. That's really the metric you want to minimize, not energy consumption per capita or overall energy consumption. Despite consuming more energy, a farmer who burns 2 units of energy to produce 3 bushels of corn is preferable to a farmer who burns 1 unit of energy to make 1 bushel of corn.

And if you're curious, Europe and Japan are about 2/3rds that of the U.S. (i.e. more efficient), but that's partly because of their higher population density (less energy used for transportation).

USA has always been known for our technical advantage, even if it is shrinking by the day. Shouldn't we use that technical advantage and develop other way of transport, so when even residents of China and India can no longer afford cheap fuel, we can jump in and sell that technology?

You have to understand exactly what's going on. The U.S. isn't falling behind. Developing countries are catching up. The long-term steady state of all this is there will be no technological nor economic difference between the U.S., Europe, China, and India. We will all be equally advanced (differences caused by politics aside).

While its advantageous for us to try to stay ahead technologically during the transition, I think it's a misguided way to interpret all this. As the rest of the world catches up technologically, the advantage will become smaller and smaller. If your motivation rests upon that advantage, your motivation will likewise become smaller. A better goal is to do stuff simply for the sake of improving technology and the economy, not so our country can beat out another country in some pen!s-measuring contest.

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