At ECO:nomics, the Wall Street Journal’s annual conference on the business of the environment, dominating the dicussion was talk of China. It’s grabbing clean-technology market share not because of its cheap labor, executives at the conference said, but through strong mandates and subsidies to build a new export industry. The U.S. is in danger of losing entire supply chains and the human capital that goes with it.
A big driving force is that you’ve got a lot of urbanization momentum, which drives all these new cities to be built. Because you build everything new, it’s easier to do it with the latest technology.
First Solar is very successful. Why? First Solar has a whole supply chain within the company because in thin film they’re vertically integrated, from glass to panel. But for the silicon-based solar industry, you have a very long supply chain and any single company cannot do it. You need a big group of enterprises to focus on each section of the supply chain to innovate, improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce cost.
The single biggest problem we have to focus on in this century is how to get every citizen on Earth roughly the same per-capita energy we enjoy in the developed world. China is developing. India is developing. Brazil is developing. They all want the lifestyle American have. The world’s energy problem is about how we can expand our energy budget by factor of 10 or more and short of incredible disaster or war, I don’t know how we can stop.