China leads way for solar energy
Andrew S. Ross – San Francisco Chronicle
September 29, 2009
Next month, Santa Clara’s Applied Materials Inc. is scheduled to open a giant solar energy R&D center. The company is investing up to $300 million in the facility. It will not be situated in California, nor in the United States, but in Xian, China. Because China’s where t he action is.
“If the U.S. doesn’t get serious, China’s going to own this industry,” said Applied Materials spokesman David Miller. He points to the Manhattan Project-like push for alternative energy adopted by Chinese officials, which includes up to $60 billion annually in government investment. And here? “Here, we’re way behind,” said Miller. “We’re still messing around with energy bills. We need to get serious, to get capital spending flowing, to get the government truly behind it, to get focused.”
Miller and his company are not simply blowing smoke. In as little as two years, analysts predict, China will be the world’s biggest consumer of solar energy. By 2013, its clean tech market could amount to $1 trillion annually, according to a report earlier this month from the China Greentech Initiative, a consortium of U.S. and Chinese companies that includes Cisco Systems and the Silicon Valley VC firm VantagePoint Venture Partners, which specializes in clean tech investments
Neither is Applied Materials alone in its views. I’ve heard them similarly expressed by numerous Bay Area executives and investors with b usiness ties to China. “They get that these are the industries of the 21st century,” says VantagePoint managing partner Alan Salzman, whose Bay Area clean tech investments include Tesla Motors, BrightSource Energy and Solazyme. “The level of support for green tech there is breathtaking. It exceeds anything done here on a state or federal level.”
As if any more wake-up calls were needed, two other VantagePoint Venture Partners’ portfolio companies, Santa Clara’s Miasolé, which produces advanced, thin-film solar panels, and Sunnyvale’s Bridgelux, developer of energy-efficient LED lighting, are reluctantly considering locating their manufacturing facilities outside the United States.
“From a global competitiveness perspective, we’re just not there,” said Salzman.