Asian economies look set to outstrip the US in the clean technology market by rapidly increasing investment in manufacturing capacity and research and development, said a report by two American think-tanks.
The US attracted about $52bn (€35bn, £31bn) in private capital for renewable energy technologies between 2000 and 2008, said a report from the Breakthrough Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
China was catching up rapidly by the end of that period, with a total of $41bn in private capital invested.
But the report said that over the five years to 2013, China, Japan and South Korea would between them invest a total of $509bn in clean technology under current plans. China had already earmarked $177bn in stimulus funds for green projects including high-speed railways.
US investment over the same period was likely to be about $172bn if projected spending based on the economic stimulus package went ahead. If the US was to remain competitive, the government must increase its planned spending on clean energy “R & D” and on stimulus measures to boost clean technology.
The report said China was “poised to replicate many of the same successful strategies that Japanese and South Korean governments used to establish a technological lead in electronics and automobiles”.
The strategy includes providing fledgling companies with low-interest loans, funding industry-wide R&D, ensuring that government procurement is geared towards domestic companies and providing subsidies for private groups to buy advanced clean technologies.
The advantage gained by these “clean-tech tigers” will make it difficult for later-to-market companies and countries to take advantage of the growing demand for low-carbon goods, which is set for a further boost if governments can put in place a new framework on controlling greenhouse gas emissions.
According to some estimates, the global market for low-carbon goods and services is already nearing $3,000bn and set to reach $4,500bn by 2015.
Some signs of China’s potential future dominance of clean technology markets are already evident. The country is the world’s biggest exporter of solar power components and has one of the biggest wind turbine manufacturing industries.
This year, according to the report, China will export the first wind turbines destined for use in a US wind farm, for a project valued at $1.5bn. The report found the US relied on foreign-owned companies to manufacture most of its wind turbines, produced less than 10 per cent of the world’s solar cells, and was “losing ground on hybrid and electric vehicle technology and manufacturing”.