China has leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels. It also surpassed Denmark as the leader in wind turbine production. Now the country is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.
These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.
Renewable energy industries here are adding jobs rapidly, reaching 1.12 million in 2008 and climbing by 100,000 a year, according to the government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.
Yet renewable energy may be doing more for China's economy than for the environment. Total power generation in China is on track to pass the United States in 2012 - and most of the added capacity will still be from coal.
China intends for wind, solar and biomass energy to represent 8 percent of its electricity generation capacity by 2020. That compares with less than 4 percent now in China and the United States. Coal will still represent two-thirds of China's capacity in 2020, and nuclear and hydropower most of the rest.
As China seeks to dominate energy-equipment exports, it has the advantage of being the world's largest market for power equipment. The government spends heavily to upgrade the electricity grid, committing $45 billion in 2009 alone. State-owned banks provide generous financing.
Multinational corporations are responding to the rapid growth of China's market by building big, state-of-the-art factories in China.
President Obama, in his State of the Union speech, sounded an alarm that the United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy. "I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either," he told Congress.
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