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Dec 082011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

This fall Obama Administration critics became epically riled about the failure of Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar start up that sucked up a horrific pile of cash, including $535 million in government-backed loans, only to gasp and die in the summer of 2011.

Suntech crew at the famous Birdsnest performance hall in Beijing.

No one thinks this was a good thing. But while naysayers in the US obsess over this one company, and dither on climate change (all of the Republican presidential candidates say they doubt the threat) the world moves on.

Last night in Durban, South Africa, China’s Suntech, the largest maker of solar modules in the world, took home the coveted Gigaton Prize.

This 10-year-old Chinese company won the award because it has plastered the planet with solar panels, from the US to Africa, bringing solar power even to remote off-the-grid places.

In October, Suntech passed a benchmark of having installed 5 gigawatts of solar power in its 10-year existence.

That’s roughly enough wattage to power about 3.75 million average American homes (and way more in less energy-intensive locations.)

It’s five times more solar power than the amount installed in all of California, the leader in the US for solar installations.

No other solar maker anywhere on earth has reached as far and fast as Suntech.

It seems fair to say this is one more piece of evidence that China, while it has a lot of pollution problems, is bringing forward a barrel of pollution solutions.

China supports its solar industry with billions in government loans as well as preferential land policies.

By comparison, the US Congress cannot settle on a clean energy program, and reconsiders tax incentives for renewable power every few years, forcing these industries into feast and famine cycles.

White House support has been better. The president champions green energy in speeches, but follow-through has been sporadic. The Obama Administration has won important new vehicle mileage standards, but when it comes to energy production, it has tried to be a friend to all — oil, nuclear power, natural gas, solar, wind — at the risk of being no friend at all to new energy innovators.

Workers at a Suntech factory in Arizona.

This dilution of priorities has so far failed to outline a clear green power plan for the US.

The bottomline: Support for renewables teeters in Washington, while it grows stronger in China.

And its not just a matter of who leads in solar manufacturing, a race that China has already won, albeit with potential debt problems that look eerily familiar.

It’s about who will benefit from solar power. Right now the US leads China in installed solar capacity (with just under 3 gigawatts), but China could surge past that with a reported state goal of reaching 10 gigawatts of installed solar power by 2015.

Putting solar on the ground, or on the roof, provides consumers with a long-term path to energy security and stable pricing because solar power, unlike coal or even oil, won’t run out in our lifetimes.

It’s telling that no US companies managed to snare any of the 2011 Gigaton awards given out jointly by Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, The Gigaton Throwdown and the World Climate Summit.

Last year, though, Oregon-based Nike won a 2010 Gigaton award for its sustainability practices.

US elected officials wondering how to shift to a new energy paradigm should take a clue from the athletic shoe maker.

Just do it!

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network