China, the Green Energy Superpower

08/02/2011 7:30 am EST

Focus: GLOBAL

Jim Trippon

Editor-in-Chief, China Stock Digest

The United States lost its edge in what I call this “technology of the future” to China in 2009, and without far-sighted leadership from Washington (and there is currently no sign of that), China will only increase its lead in terms of technology and investment, writes James Trippon of China Stock Digest.

Energy awareness isn’t just a matter for the sandal-wearing set anymore. Energy policy is a matter of national security, and is vital to America’s economy now and in the future.

In the absence of coherent planning in Washington, the United States may have to look to China for energy efficient products and innovation. Right now, Washington could also learn a thing or two from Beijing when it comes to planning.

Investment in “green energy” goes far beyond wind farms and solar projects. In China, energy efficiency has become a national planning priority. It has acquired the rather awkward name, the “circular economy.”

A few days ago, China doubled its investment in the circular economy this year to 2 billion yuan ($300 million) to support national energy-conservation and emission-re­duction policies. In other words, it is all about energy efficiency, recycling, and reduction of pollution.

The circular economy is a national strategy for all of China, ac­cording to the powerful NDRC planning body. One spokesman boasted, “No other country has given it such a high priority.” He is right about that.

If Beijing’s $300 million investment in the sector sounds like small potatoes, consider the size of the entire “circular economy.” The cumulative value of circular economy industries was 1 trillion yuan ($155 billion) at the end of 2010, according to the NDRC. The sector is forecast to grow at least 15% annually.

Beijing has decreed, “The country will focus on the application of the circular economy con­cept in industry, agriculture, services, and green consumption. The policy will be implemented at all stages of production, distribution, and consumption. However, China will still pay the most attention to reducing energy consumption in industrial production.”

When it comes to running an economy, central planning is a mixed bag, especially when it is combined with free-market capitalism as it is in China. But America is currently stuck in “no planning” mode. Investors should not confuse an utter lack of planning and organization with pure free-market capitalism.

Sometimes it takes leadership to get things moving. Especially if there is a race on to dominate an entirely new industry sector.

So, who will win the race to produce electric cars for the world? China is convinced that it will take first place. Planners are predicting that China will produce one million electric cars a year by 2020. How can it hit that breathtaking target?

Twenty-five Chinese cities have joined a program to replace conventional public transport vehicles with electric vehicles, in an effort to boost the development of the industry. Sizable subsidies topping $9,000 will be given to buyers of completely electric vehicles in pilot cities, including Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou.

It is precisely because China is taking the lead in advanced industries that I am a believer in investing in China.

How much to invest in any part of the world is a constantly changing ques­tion. But right now I’m betting on China to maintain its leadership in the most important new industry of our times.

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