Green Energy Investors Flock to China

Written by Jeff St. John

In the midst of a worldwide financial crisis, China's growing demand for energy continues to be an attractive draw for investors. (Don't miss " Buffett Buys 10% Stake in Chinese Battery Maker")

Several greentech companies this week have announced plans to put money into satisfying fast-growing appetite for renewable energy.

On the solar front, Taiwan's Green Energy Technology said Wednesday that it is investing $5.05 million for a 40% stake in a joint venture aimed at supplying solar cells to Chinese manufacturers.

The subsidiary of the Tatung Group said the joint venture hoped to be up and running by mid-2009 and to have an annual production capacity of 60 megawatts.

Also on Wednesday, the Nordic Environment Finance Corp. said that its Carbon Fund has signed up to buy carbon-emission reductions from two Chinese renewable power projects -- a 201-megawatt wind project being developed by Yangtze New Energy Development Co. in Jiangsu province, and a small hydroelectric power project in southwest China.

The deals were announced a day after Google ( GOOG) pledged to give $250,000 to the U.S. National Academies to find ways to link the United States and China -- the world's two largest energy consumers and greenhouse gas emitters -- in developing renewable energy policies and technologies. (Don't miss " Google Bankrolls U.S.-China Green Energy Study")

All of it points to a continuation of China's boom in renewable energy, itself both a part of -- and a reaction to -- China's fast-paced economic growth over the past decade, said Ron Pernick, co-founder and principal of research and publishing firm Clean Edge.

"China has not been sitting idle" in either the manufacturing or the deploying of renewable energy technologies, Pernick said. China already leads the world in making solar-water heaters, and its list of solar-photovoltaic manufacturers has grown to include heavy hitters such as Suntech Power Holdings ( STP), China Sunergy ( CSUN) and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. ( YGE), he said.

China stands third, behind Japan and Germany, in terms of its share of photovoltaic-manufacturing capacity, according to a Worldwatch Institute report released in November.

The report estimated that China was set to invest $10 billion in renewable energy last year, second only to Germany. That's out of about $150 billion invested in green energy worldwide last year, Pernick said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce set China's investment in renewable energy last year at an even higher $12 billion, and projects that the country will invest $175 billion in protecting the environment in the next five years as it strives to meet its renewable goals, according to CNBC.

That growth is linked not only to China's role as an offshore home for foreign manufacturers, but also to its pressing need for new renewable energy sources, the Worldwatch Institute said.

China hopes to boost its green-electricity generation from 17% of its overall generation capacity today to 21% by 2020. The Worldwatch Institute said China could well exceed those goals, pushing its renewable power capacity to as much as 400 gigawatts by 2020, up from 135 gigawatts in 2006.

So far, solar photovoltaic power projects within China remain "in their infancy" compared to Japan, Germany and the United States, and China's hopes for a large-scale domestic market for grid-integrated photovoltaic projects remains a few years out, according to the report.

That's not as much the case with wind power, which the report called China's fastest-growing renewable-energy source. China will need to invest $21 billion to $28 billion if the country is to meet its goal of 30 gigawatts of production by 2020, up from to 1.2 gigawatts in 2005, the Commerce Department reported.

China now has more than 50 domestic wind turbine manufacturers, the Worldwatch Institute said.

"They're also becoming a dominant wind player in terms of deployment," Pernick said of China. "The question is, 'What might happen in terms of manufacturing?'"

Despite the ongoing global financial crisis, Pernick sees permanence in China's current renewable energy push, given its people's increasing concern about environmental problems within the country's borders and global concerns about the country's role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

In an August report, the Worldwatch Institute said that China accounted for 57% of the world's growth of carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels from 2000 to 2007.

The link between China's renewable-energy push and its environment was brought to the world's attention this summer, when the Chinese government took drastic steps to clean up Beijing's notoriously polluted air for the 2008 Olympic Games.

"The great thing about China is, if a mandate comes down from the national level, it can quickly be deployed," Pernick said.

Even in the midst of the ongoing global financial crisis, China remains an attractive market for green technologies, according to a survey of venture capitalists and technology company executives released Wednesday by the law firm DLA Piper.

Nearly nine of 10 survey respondents said China's consumer market will be an "exploitable opportunity" for green technology companies, DLA Piper reported.

Still, Pernick doesn't see China becoming the "mother of all markets" when it comes to the growing market for renewable energy sources.

"This is a global phenomenon," he said. China is "just going to be one node in the network."

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