If clean-energy means “low-carbon” (a definition to which I object), then the U.S. is way, way ahead of China in the clean-energy race. If it means low-everything-else, we are still way, way ahead, since China has a pathetic record on controlling genuine pollution.
Getting hung up on commoditized solar-panel or wind-turbine production ignores the phenomenal increase in coal-generated power in China—an increase that swamps that country’s installed wind and solar production. From parity with the U.S. around 2005, China’s CO2 emissions will grow to roughly double America’s in 2012.
Here’s the kicker: Market-driven energy choices are cutting more tons of CO2 in the U.S. than have been cut by wind and solar—even with their billions of dollars in subsidies.
Natural gas-fired electricity generation has grown from 15.8 percent of America’s power generation in 2000 to 24.1 percent in the most recent 12-month tally from the Energy Information Administration. That 8.3 percent increase is enough to cut 120 million metric tons of CO2 per year compared to coal.
Over the same span, wind- and solar-generated power grew to 2.75 percent of total power generation. That would cut CO2 by 108 million metric tons per year compared to coal power. So over the past decade, hugely subsidized wind and solar have done less to cut CO2 emissions than market-driven natural gas production.
This rising trend for gas-generated power is likely to continue, thanks to hydraulic fracturing and Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
In summary, for those who obsess about CO2 emissions and want to have a race, we are whipping China handily. And the market has done more to cut CO2 than all the subsidies, mandates, and regional CO2 agreements combined.
Cross-posted at National Journal