Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Great Green Energy Race Part 1: Intro

With the Cancun Climate talks beginning and various groups keeping their eyes on the events unfolding It is an opportune time to start to discuss a project I decided to embark upon.

This project stems from an online chat between David Roberts of Grist and the Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune where the subject of a "Green Arms Race" was brought up. In describing the purposes of training advocates in many different countries including China, India, etc Michael Brune states that "the goal, whether its with China or other countries, is to create a "clean energy arms race" so that countries are competing, aggressively and fairly to develop their clean energy economies most quickly." This idea of competing for dominance in the green tech industry really resonated with me. While collaboration and openness in technology advances everyone and is an amazing practice when it comes to the Scientific Community as a whole, it is also apparent that in the age of the Cold War and the Space Race so much money was pumped into the system that industries were able to be created, developed and thrive as a result of National level pushes. On a Nation verse Nation level a mentality of competition may be the only real solution to developing the public backing for major investment in the Green industry; making it a National priority on the basis of pride and supremacy in a field (not to mention control of the jobs in the industry).

In the initial research to answer the question of "Who is winning the Green Energy race" I found that not only was the answer much harder to pinpoint than I originally thought, but also that the "answer" would really be a huge undertaking much larger than most people would want to read in a single setting. There are many great resources out there from the 44 page Pew Report of "Who is Winning the Green Energy Race" to The Third Way's publication "Creating a Clean Energy Century" that there is just a lot of information to break down, process and analyze. This task has to be broken into multiple sections by the efforts and progress done by separate countries.

This effort was also spurred by an article I stumbled upon by Gizmag showing reviewing various graphics that have been spreading around the eco-bloggosphere generated by Third Way, the "leading moderate think tank of the progressive movement."

Of the graphics I found and perused one stuck out. It shows a comparison of percentage of GDP spent on Clean Energy investment. From one perspective this is a telling graph showing how much of an investment countries are willing to spend of their Gross Domestic Product, some may say that the total amount is really what matters. Spain, whose 2009 GDP is only 1.46 Trillion compared to the US's 14.26 Trillion makes a total investment of approximately 10.3 Billion to the US's 18.5 Billion. In my mind this comparison, to show interest in investment, really must be made to GDP percentage for it shows how important the investment is to the Nation's Government; countries who devote a higher percentage of their total funds are showing that clean energy and green tech innovation are higher priorities than those investing a smaller portion of their own coffers. (China's total investment ends up being $34 Billion). For who is leading the industry, however, it is important to also look at how much is actually being invested in real dollars, for they will have a more comparable affect, across the board.

If we are to imagine that those who spend more of their budget on Clean Energy then, from this graph the apparent leaders are; Spain, China, the UK, Brazil, Canada with The United States in a dismal 7th place behind India. When looking at total amounts, however The order appears as follows;

Vertical bar chart

This shows that, in relationship to total dollars spent, the top two contenders are the United States and China, with China spending nearly double. By these metrics, the United States is a poor second place in the Green Energy Race.

Back in 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article entitled; "Will America lose the clean-energy race." This article pointed out how far the United States was falling behind with their investment, not only in the industry, but in the future of the industry;

The United States is also falling behind in energy science and technology education. Only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees earned in the United States are in science and engineering, compared with 50 percent in China, according to the National Academies.

That same year Obama had proposed a program, called RE-ENERGYSE (Regaining our Energy Science and Engineering Edge), designed to encourage young Americans to follow clean energy careers. Unfortunately, Congress had rejected the proposal cutting the funds to virtually nothing. This program would apparently have funded new undergraduate and graduate energy programs to prepare up to 8,500 highly educated young scientists and engineers to enter clean-energy fields by 2015 alone. It shows that investing in the industry is not the only metric that needs to be kept in mind to determine who in fact is winning.

Thanks to the efforts of Michael Liebreich (@M_Liebreich) and , this effort should be relatively seamless and interesting. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance, or BNEF is a data company focused on energy investment and carbon markets research based in the U.K.. London is pretty much the current center of the carbon markets since the United States backed out of the Kyoto Accords killing that industry in NY and the exchange there. As a result of their background and position in this important aspect of the green economy, BNEF has conducted extensive research on this subject and have written papers and reviews regarding the money invested in the green industry by countries.

So look forward to and (hopefully) enjoy this continuing series called "The Great Green Energy Race."

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