What two countries lead the world in energy consumption, energy production and greenhouse gas emissions? The United States and China. Can our two countries work together to help lead the world in a transition to clean energy? A recent announcement by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is an important step in that direction.
Yesterday, Secretary Chu announced that the University of Michigan and West Virginia University will each lead consortia under the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center. The two consortia will receive $25 million in total funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for this work. These amounts will be matched by the grantees, for a total of $50 million in U.S. funding. The Chinese side will contribute an additional $50 million, for a total of $100 million for this innovative project.
What can we accomplish with this program? First, advances in clean vehicles (the focus of the University of Michigan program). Our two countries are the world’s largest auto markets and largest consumers of petroleum – what we do makes a difference. Second, advances in clean coal, including carbon capture and storage (the focus at West Virginia University). Both the U.S. and China have abundant coal resources – but neither country can afford to burn coal in the 21st century using 20th century technologies.
This announcement is just a start. In the months ahead, the Department of Energy will announce funding for an energy-efficient buildings program under the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, and the Chinese government will announce entities participating on the Chinese side. (Under this program, each country funds its own participants – U.S. funds pay for U.S. institutions and individuals only.)
Two generations ago, citizens of the United States and China were not able to visit the other country. Today we have a vibrant and dynamic U.S.-China relationship in which people from all parts of government and society interact on a daily basis. While the United States and China have differences on important issues, we have a common interest in a clean energy future. Working together, we can accomplish more than acting alone.