China holds key to teaming up with US for green energy

A smart power grid can incorporate energy from solar and wind farms. (AFP)

A key to partnering China and the United States on clean energy initiatives such as renewable power and "smart" power grids is finding the right decision makers in China's centralised government, an expert said.

"In something like energy it's easier to have an authoritative structure than it is to be completely fragmented where you have a gazillion competitors," Peggy Liu, the chair of the non-profit group the Joint US-China Co-operation on Clean Energy (JUCCCE) told Reuters.

JUCCCE, which developed out of a forum held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the future of Chinese energy, seeks to foster innovation between professionals from both countries on energy from business, academia, design and other sectors. Jim Rogers, Duke Energy's chair and chief executive, and Richard Branson, the chair of Virgin Group, are some of JUCCCE's board members.

The goal is not to sign memorandums of understanding that countless delegations between the world's top two energy consumers have signed until now. "You can't really point to the impact of these MoUs," said Liu. Rather, collaborations under JUCCCE can provide decision makers in China – including more than 600 mayors of cities with more than one million people – with "restaurant-style menus" of energy solutions.

The US would benefit by providing engineering, technical and financing expertise.

"You want major US companies to be crawling all over these case studies," said Liu, a Chinese-American who now lives in Shanghai.

The lessons learned in transforming China to clean energy could be put to good use in the US.

JUCCCE focuses on energy problems that have the best chance of being helped within three years. such as building smart grid power transmission, making transportation more efficient, green buildings and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. For instance, China has only two main power grid companies, including the state power company, while the US has thousands. So pushing China to adopt a smart power grid that would have the data-processing ability to allow massive additions of intermittent energy from solar and wind farms could be a matter of convincing as few as 10 people, said Liu.