Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dragging our feet/Shooting our foot

Many in the US argue that we shouldn’t take action (such as cap and trade or a carbon tax) to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions unless China (and other developing countries) are compelled to do the same. This is both wrongheaded and shortsighted. Wrongheaded because global warming is primary of our making (we = developed countries) and we should be responsible for the effects (or the very least mitigating the effects) of our pollution. Shortsighted because now is the perfect time to be investing and inventing in alternative energy, which is (collectively) the energy source for the next century. I don’t know anyone (except US government statisticians over at the EIA) who thinks that in 30 years there will be enough oil produced for us to continue with BAU (business as ususal). If we as a country commit to taking a leadership role in reducing greenhouse gases and developing the technology to do so, we will be well placed to reap the economic benefit as other countries invest in cleaner energy sources. On the other hand if we continue to drag our feet other countries will achieve a position of technological dominance that leaves America struggling to compete. This has happened in so many industries already, electronics, computer hardware, cell phones…etcetera.

To use the example of solar cells this might be happening again. According to a publication of the Prometheus Institute, the increase in Chinese solar cell production last year was more than the total cell production of the US. In 2006 the US produced 200MW of solar cells out of a 2.5GW global market (~8%). As recently as the year 2000 we produced 75MW of solar cells out of a 275MW global market (~27%). Talk about losing market share! Heck Taiwan alone produces 89% as many solar cells as the US. China is almost exclusively exporting cells to Europe, but then that is where half of our production goes too.

The good news is that we installed over 100MW of solar in the US last year, about twice what was installed in 2004 and four times what was installed in 2002.


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