20 April 2010

India & China: The Renewable Energy 'Outsourcees'?

By: Kaavya Nag

News reports coming out of the United States suggest that India and China are 'stealing' US solar jobs - what with companies halting manufacture of solar panel components in America. In this capitalistic global economy, profits mean too much for private companies to have nationalistic or altruistic bottom-lines. So if BP solar made a purely business decision by halting production in the US while opening manufacturing plants in India and China, then such a move should come as no surprise.

Agreed - such news is alarming, because it gets one thinking this could well be the precursor to another outsourcing blitzkrieg. But blaming third-world eager beaver private players for snatching away US skilled and semi-skilled jobs may not be a completely fair diagnosis.

Any student of history will know that an explanation for present-day happenings could well lie in the past. So simply pointing a convenient finger at India and China for taking away what is not theirs, may not be an objective enough analysis.

China's first-mover advantage

Long before the phrase 'low-carbon' became uber-cool, China had enacted (in 2006) a series of laws and policies that would push the country's renewable energy mix up to 15 percent. What this effectively did, was to create the space for clean-energy businesses to thrive in the settings of a booming national economy.

In this capitalistic world, and one in which China fought for no caps on trading in other sectors, developed countries were justifiably peeved with the Chinese government's active policy of creating unfair market barriers for foreign firms hoping to get a slice China's profit pie.

But we have to give it to China - they had the foresight and the stubborn will to enforce their policies. We also cannot claim that their renewable energy boom came in 2010 - everyone had seen it coming since 2008. China has now become the fastest growing wind-energy market, the world's largest producer of wind turbines, and is home to Suntech, the world's largest producer of solar photovoltaics by volume.

The elephant moves pre-Copenhagen

India has awoken late - just pre-Copenhagen. But in the short (by Indian standards) span of one year, missions have been approved and budgets allocated to respective ministries and agencies. The juggernaut has been set in motion, and will move faster in two years from now - at least for solar energy production and energy efficiency.

Also heartening is the knowledge that our leaders know that they need to capitalise on the time they have now, and on the world's opinion of India.

Domestic moves towards renewable energy in the energy mix and a lower-carbon economy will obviously have desired and beneficial side-effects. Those could even multiply with South-South cooperation - if the camaraderie between Brazil, South Africa, China, Russia and India develops the way it has in the past six months. 

US inaction post-Copenhagen

The US Climate Bill bore the promise of change. To the world, a first-step commitment to tackle climate change, to potential job-seekers in the US, clean-energy jobs, to potential entrepreneurs, the promise of a booming business. But is has been so late in coming, that one cannot blame other first and fast-movers for seizing the opportunity first.

When every nation wants to be a 'deal maker' and everybody wants to 'be the change', opportunity can be created, capitalised on, taken, and lost, but it cannot be 'stolen'.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - its time the world woke up.
    The "old order changeth, yielding place for new..