Steven Chu: China Giving U.S. a Clean Technology "Sputnik Moment"

steven chu sputnik photos

Photos: Wikipedia, Public domain.
Investing Now for a Better Future
In a speech at the National Press Club, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu made the case for more R&D; in the U.S., especially in the energy sector ("the 2010 federal budget is $3.6 trillion, of which 0.14 percent went for research and development related to energy"). Dr. Chu explains why this is essential for both economic development and to meet environmental challenges, and he compares China's progress in clean technologies and energy to the wake up call that was the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union.Here's Dr. Chu's speech:

Specifically, Secretary Chu highlighted several crucial technologies where the United States must innovate or risk falling far behind, such as:

  1. High Voltage Transmission. China has deployed the world's first Ultra High Voltage AC and DC lines - including one capable of delivering 6.4 gigawatts to Shanghai from a hydroelectric plant nearly 1300 miles away in southwestern China. These lines are more efficient and carry much more power over longer distances than those in the United States.

  2. High Speed Rail. In the span of six years, China has gone from importing this technology to exporting it, with the world's fastest train and the world's largest high speed rail network, which will become larger than the rest of the world combined by the end of the decade. Some short distance plane routes have already been cancelled, and train travel from Beijing to Shanghai (roughly equivalent to New York to Chicago) has been cut from 11 hours to 4 hours.

  3. Advanced Coal Technologies. China is rapidly deploying supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal combustion plants, which have fewer emissions and are more efficient than conventional coal plants because they burn coal at much higher temperatures and pressures. Last month, Secretary Chu toured an ultra-supercritical plant in Shanghai which claims to be 45 to 48 percent efficient. The most efficient U.S. plants are about 40 percent efficient. China is also moving quickly to design and deploy technologies for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants as well as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

  4. Nuclear Power. China has more than 30 nuclear power plants under construction, more than any other country in the world, and is actively researching fourth generation nuclear power technologies.

  5. Alternative Energy Vehicles. China has developed a draft plan to invest $17 billion in central government funds in fuel economy, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel cell vehicles, with the goal of producing 5 million new energy vehicles and 15 million fuel-efficient conventional vehicles by 2020.

  6. Renewable Energy. China is installing wind power at a faster rate than any nation in the world, and manufactures 40 percent of the world's solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. It is home to three of the world's top ten wind turbine manufacturers and five of the top ten silicon based PV manufacturers in the world.

  7. Supercomputing. Last month, the Tianhe-1A, developed by China's National University of Defense Technology, became the world's fastest supercomputer. While the United States - and the Department of Energy in particular - still has unrivalled expertise in the useful application of high performance computers to advance scientific research and develop technology, America must continue to improve the speed and capacity of our advanced supercomputers.

Not a Zero-Sum Game, But We'll Get There Faster if USA Does Better
Of course, it's no a zero-sum game. China's success benefits the rest of the world; if they invent better and cheaper ways to make wind turbines, solar panels, high-speed trains, high-efficiency transmission lines, electric cars, etc, that will benefit everybody else. But we'll get there faster if the USA does its share of the R&D;, and the US will be better off economically if it doesn't fall behind in the innovation game.

Via DOE, NYT, C-Span
More on Alternative Energy
iSuppli Forecasts 15.8GW of Solar PV in 2010, 19.3GW in 2011
South-Korea to Invest $8.2B In Massive Offshore Wind Farms
Stirling Engine Made with Soda Cans Spins to 860 RPM (Video)
Algenol's Algae-to-Ethanol Delivers 67% to 87% Reduction in CO2
Dr. Steven Chu Answers Questions from Citizens About Energy Conservation (Video)
Should Energy Conservation be Framed in Terms of What Would be Lost?

Related Content on