WASHINGTON - China is well on its way to acquiring fully 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020, while the United States is dragging its feet on transitioning away from fossil fuels, according to a pair of reports released here this week.
A worker stands near a vehicle planting a wind turbine at a wind farm in Yinchuan, Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, in this photo taken on October 19, 2007. [Xinhua]
Nations across the globe invested over $50 billion collectively into renewable energy conversion last year, and in 2007 China alone is expected to account for some $10 billion of investment, explains "Powering China's Development: The Role of Renewable Energy," released Wednesday by the Worldwatch Institute, an independent Washington, DC research group.
With this large financial commitment, China looks poised to pass solar and wind energy leaders in Europe and North America and in the next three years become the world's leader in renewable energy, the report notes, adding that, at this pace, China will draw 30 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2050.
"The future of the global climate may rest in large measure on China's ability to lead the world into the age of renewable energy, much as the United States led the world into the age of oil roughly a century ago," said Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin.
Renewable energy continues to be marginalized in many national energy plans despite its numerous benefits, say environmental and geopolitical experts. The environmental benefits are well-known, but also important, they say, is that renewable energy sources -- unlike traditional fossil fuels -- will never run out.
While the Chinese government advances closer towards its renewable energy goals, the United States appears to be lagging. The US Congress recently discussed dropping several key provisions from the energy legislation it is considering.
The terms in question would mandate a 35-mile-per-gallon (mpg) fuel efficiency standard for the US fleet of cars and light trucks; an expansion of renewable energy tax incentives; and a 15-percent share of the nation's energy to come from renewable sources by the year 2020.
But the United States had already set its goals low, and by dropping these provisions it will fall farther behind the rest of the world, said the Sustainable Energy Network, an umbrella group of over 500 organizations, businesses, and individuals that promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency.
In response to the US Congress' threat to drop the provisions, 100 of the group's members, including Public Citizen's Energy Program and the Redwood Alliance, sent a letter Wednesday urging lawmakers against this action. The letter declared that the goals to be dropped are actually less than "what has been technically and economically achievable for many years."
Although a target fuel efficiency standard of 35 mpg is "a significant improvement," the groups said, with hybrid technology the United States is easily capable of reaching 55 mpg, and with fuel cell technology could possibly go as high as 80 mpg in the future.
The same can be said of the tax incentive and energy share provisions of the bill, according to the groups. The goal of a 15 percent renewable energy share by 2020 pales in comparison to Germany's plan to source 45 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
Many US states, including California, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Colorado, have set goals of 20 percent renewable energy shares by 2020 or earlier. If these states can make these ambitious targets, then the nation should at least aim for similar goals, say the letter's signers.
If the United States does not wish to fall behind in global efforts to convert to cleaner and safer renewable energy, then it must move forward -- not backward -- on the legislative front, the groups warned.