Nowhere is the shift in global power from the US to China being demonstrated more keenly than in the clean tech arena.
At GreenBiz’s recent VERGE 17 event, Australian-raised Danny Kennedy, Sungevity co-founder and now managing director of the California Clean Energy Fund, put the situation bluntly – the US’s progress on renewables was being “dwarfed” by the amount of clean energy China is installing.
Kennedy had just flown in from China where he’d been speaking at the Mass Entrepreneurship and Innovation Festival.
“I don’t’ want to say a cautionary tale, because I think it’s really exciting,” he told the VERGE crowd, “but a note that as we go towards this cleaner energy future, China is driving hard and plans to run this one, [and] is demonstrating great success at that.
“They did 11 gigawatts of solar in the month of July [equivalent capacity to about seven Hazelwood Power Stations]. 11GW in one month. We in America, just for comparison, did 16GW last year – the whole year.
“So we’ve got some competition, but we can keep going. And the good news for all of you out there is that clean energy is happening. It’s coming to pass.”
Kennedy also spoke in amazement of the current speed of transformation of the Chinese vehicle fleet from fossil fuels to electric.
“Talk about private public partnerships! They’re getting serious about this EV stuff,” he said.
“They’ve sort of signalled they might name a date certain to phase out fossil fuels, which is sending a shiver up the spine of all the [original equipment manufacturers] and oil companies in the world.
“And you walk around the streets of Shanghai and there’s EVs everywhere. Every two-wheeled vehicle is now electric, and there are charging units that are being put in under these public private partnerships with cities. And they’re being managed with this incredible software, some of which comes out of start-ups here in the States.”
Van Jones on the intersection of environmentalism and social justice
Another exciting speaker at VERGE was Van Jones, former green jobs advisor to Barack Obama, and president and co-founder of Dream Corps, which supports economic, environmental and criminal justice innovators, creating synergies between the clean economy and the justice movement – creating the slogan “green jobs, not jails”.
Jones spoke of the beginning of Dream Corps, where his daily journey between Oakland, California and Marin County uncovered what he termed “ecological apartheid”.
“I’m literally going from cancer clusters and no jobs to solar panels and hybrid cars and hybrid buses and salads,” he told the audience about how he came up with the idea for Dream Corps.
“So it was such a wild experience … going to Marin County and realising this whole green economy was growing.
“And I saw it strictly as, wait a minute, hold on a second. You’re going to be growing all these new products, new companies, new services – you need some workers. I’ve got young people out here who need jobs. Well why don’t we let the people who most need work do the work that most needs to be done? And we can fight pollution and poverty at the same time.”
Jones also told the audience there was a “racially segregated environmental movement”, with well-known “mainstream environmental” organisation with multi-million-dollar budgets, and an overwhelmingly white and affluent constituency.
In contrast, “environmental justice” groups were “almost entirely people of colour, and if they have a half-million budget, they’re doing huge!”
“We’re the only cause I know of that accepts this sort of racial division inside of our movement, and we don’t talk about it,” he said.
He said the environmental movement needed to focus on spreading the benefits of the clean economy to all people.
“The dirty secret is you can’t hurt the planet without hurting people. And the people that you hurt are usually the poorest. So who lives next to the dumps? Who lives next to the incinerators? Who lives next to the refineries? Who has the most lead poisoning? Always the poorest.
“So if you protect the poorest you’re protecting the planet.
“You guys are in a situation where you can go beyond even that. It’s not just about equal protection, but also about equal opportunity. In other words, why should those communities that were hit first and worst for everything bad in the old industrial pollution-based economy, why should those very same communities … then benefit last and least for all the good stuff?”