* China on course to grab top spot in global wind market
* United States will be main rival
* Chinese manufacturers increase share in solar panels
By Gerard Wynn
LONDON, Aug 6 China is winning a global race to create "green collar" jobs, six months after countries worldwide launched $500 billion spending plans to drive a low-carbon economy.
Following the economic downturn, both the United States and Europe aim to spur jobs in a green push to fight climate change and boost energy security, but China may leapfrog both this year in new wind power -- a key measure.
China passed the United States in numbers of new wind turbines built in the first half of 2009, data from Beijing-based specialists Azure International shows, and is also increasing its share of the main solar demand market, Europe.
"I think China is definitely winning the race," said Wu Changhua, China director of the London-based environment body The Climate Group, citing support for low-carbon LED lighting and electric cars as well as wind and solar.
"A low-carbon economy is mainstream thinking," she said, adding that Chinese development was helped by swifter centralised decision-making compared with its rivals.
In wind power, local demand often means local jobs -- that's especially true in China where an unofficial rule says all installed turbines must include 70 percent local content.
International companies' market share there is falling.
"In the first half (of 2009) that decline continued," said Sebastian Meyer, head of research at Azure International.
Tough financing markets plus falling oil prices have dented clean energy prospects worldwide and created a glut of turbines and solar panels, with recovery expected from next year, aided by new stimulus programmes.
For factboxes on global green stimulus plans click on [ID:nL6217644], and planned U.S. renewable spend [ID:nN29301175]
In solar power, Germany will dominate demand this year, according to Barclays Capital, overtaking Spain following a cap on state support there.
But Chinese manufacturers will continue to grab an increasing share of production despite a fall in prices, their key differentiator, said New Energy Finance analyst Jenny Chase.
China accounted for about a third of the market for global solar cell production in 2008 while Europe's share declined to about a quarter, according to a survey by German industry publication Photon. [ID:nLF197500]
Last year Europe collectively installed 4.3 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) power and 8.5 GW of wind, tipping the United States into second place in both.
In new installed solar power, both Spain and Germany dwarfed the United States. New U.S. wind demand surpassed any individual European country.
But the wind ranking may change -- China added about 4.5 GW in the first half of 2009, Azure's Meyer told Reuters, putting the country on track to pass the United States which installed 4 GW, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
HSBC forecast a drop in U.S and European demand this year.
The Global Wind Energy Council expects China to take top spot in 2009, said Secretary-General Steve Sawyer.
Two weeks ago China fixed the price for wind power using a so-called a feed-in tariff [ID:nPEK374465], and a state-backed economic stimulus and credit loosening have boosted projects.
"This year plans to develop have been accelerated under the stimulus environment, it has to do with infrastructure across the board. Banks have more imperative to lend," said Meyer.
The United States is likely to be China's chief rival in new wind power, analysts say, overtaking Europe where some countries are hamstrung by planning delays.
"The permitting process has been easier in the United States than in certain countries in Europe," said HSBC's Robert Clover.
A protest this week at a British turbine factory against 625 job losses appeared doomed after owners Denmark's Vestas (VWS.CO) won a re-possession order. [ID:nL494096]
Vestas is moving the facility to the United States, and has won plaudits from analysts for its second place in a more lucrative market, behind GE (GE.N).
U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu said last week $3 billion in new renewables grants would boost green jobs [ID:nN31435667].
For stories on climate change click on [ID:nCLIMATE]