More than a decade ago, in 2010, Scientific American asked, “Is the US Falling Behind in the Clean Energy Race?” In the twelve years that followed, that question was answered: unequivocally, yes. While other countries around the world are developing renewable energy technologies as their best hope for energy independence and security, the United States is enjoying a flood of cheap domestic shale oil and gas. The shale revolution has allowed the country to become self-sufficient in energy for the first time since 1957, and turning its back on shale in favor of newer technologies and prices seems unthinkable.
But the updated items have become less expensive. And as solar and wind have taken over and revolutionized the energy industry, the United States has found itself clinging to an anachronistic energy base that has waned in importance on a global scale. Now, while solar and wind are growing around the world, including in the United States, the US lacks the infrastructure and expertise to gain any foothold in the renewable energy supply chain.
There was a time when the United States was at the forefront of solar energy infrastructure in the decades after the cold war, ruling. over 90% of the market. But “the Carter administration did not prioritize solar, and the Reagan administration completely rejected it, crippling business with low investment, record high interest rates, and environmental regulation,” national news source The National Interest reported last year. Currently, US production of solar cells just 1% of the world’s share. As of 2019China produced 78% of the world’s solar cells, marking a complete reversal of the sector’s dominance.
Indeed, China has positioned itself as the world’s pioneer in renewable energy, leading technological and manufacturing advances in nearly every part of the renewable supply chain. China’s central government has led a push to achieve the country’s twin goals of energy security and decarbonisation by boosting renewable energy production to new heights. And now, as the West tries to free itself from power sales to Russia, they are forced to turn to other authoritarian regimes to keep the lights on. Europe is currently setting new records for solar energy production, but without China’s low-cost components, the expansion would not be possible.
While the West is finally waking up to the issue of China’s control of large renewable energy supply chains at the beginning of the renewable era, China is celebrating its new management and high morale as a leader in decarbonization technology. As China’s widely circulated Communist Party newspaper “Global Times” said last week: “Contrary to the US government’s commitment to business under former president Donald Trump and the lip service paid by incumbent President Joe Biden, China is liberal.” political courage, economic motivation, technological prowess and moral consensus to lead the global renewable energy campaign and the fight against climate change. “
Western governments and industry leaders are trying to expand their photovoltaic capacity quickly, but they have a difficult time catching up to do it in terms of scale, cost, and technological know-how. BloombergNEF It has been calculated in a recent report that it will cost Europe 149 billion dollars and 113 billion US dollars to produce enough solar panels, batteries and electrolyzers to meet domestic needs in 2030.
The United States and Europe would like to compete with China without involving China, but that would be easier said than done. Regarding the growing gap in knowledge and power, Bloomberg recently report that “some of this knowledge can be quickly transferred outside the country if Chinese companies face less resistance to establishing production sites in the US and EU.” But this is a sticky political path.
It won’t be easy or cheap to catch up with China and compete in the global renewable energy market, but the alternative is dire. We have seen what can happen to the world’s energy markets when the world relies too much on revolutionary leaders with impeccable human rights records in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Relying on Chinese exports to keep the lights on would be – and already is – a very dangerous game.
By Haley Zaremba of Oilprice.com
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