Year after year, China’s economy keeps racing forward at a blistering pace, brewing immense environmental challenges along the way. In addition to polluting its air and water, China now produces more greenhouse gases than any other country on earth, driven by its rapid growth and reliance on coal for 77% of their electricity (The U.S. gets about 50% of its electricity from coal). Seeking solutions, China is investing heavily in renewable energy and now also generates more renewable energy than any other country on earth. The race is on in China between dirty energy and clean energy and the result of the race may decide the fate of our planet. If someone can win and supply clean energy, they're going to get very wealthy, and potentially save us all.
The close relationship between economic growth and energy use may be coming to a head already, as a continued drought has reduced the production of hydroelectric power, and may lead to widespread energy shortages this summer. Without energy, factories will halt, goods will not be produced, and the economic ripple effects will spread through China and into our own stores, raising prices. China needs energy, but it needs to be clean.
There are solutions for China’s challenges, and U.S. entrepreneurs may find the opportunity of a lifetime in providing solutions for these urgent problems. China is investing billions of dollars in high-speed rail, solar power, and wind. Innovative energy solutions like geothermal heat pumps that are being invented here in the U.S. by companies like the Advanced Energy Group (AEG) in Michigan should find eager customers in China.
Geothermal heat exchangers don’t seem to get as much attention as other energy resources like wind or solar, but their potential remains enormous. By transferring heat between buildings and the ground, they can cool or heat buildings for a fraction of the energy normally required.
With the help of Oak Ridge National Labs and University of Tennessee, its novel heat exchange system is 60% more efficient and can go 2-3 times deeper than standard heat exchangers. The result is that AEG's system needs fewer bore holes drilled into the ground, reducing costs dramatically. And that in turn allowed the Advanced Energy Group to develop for the first time geothermal heat pumps large enough for whole districts or cities to incorporate in renewable energy utility systems.
One client for AEG might be the Chinese in their pursuit of cost efficient and clean energy. China is developing eco-city projects as examples of what can be achieved and models for others in China to follow. To be a part of this move, AEG is reaching out to connections in China.
Of course China is not alone in its need for renewable energy solutions. China may be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, but the U.S. is still the second greatest.
Geothermal has been recognized by our own Department of Energy as one of the most cost-effective energy solutions available. AEG and Local Power are also working on the U.S. implementation of local scale power solutions integrating geothermal heat pumps and other measures to help businesses, schools, and cities to save money, save energy, and fight climate change. One of their clients was a GM car dealership that reduced energy costs from average of $18K a month to $4K a month while offering superior climate control for the workers and customers.
The U.S. entrepreneurs who successfully meet the Chinese clean energy challenge could realize huge success, both financially and for the future of our planet and people everywhere. The race is on, and if clean energy wins, we all win.
Read more from Fast Company: Invest In China To Make Money On Renewables: Report
[Image, of coal bricks waiting to heat Chinese houses: Flickr user Storyvillegirl]