U.S. could fall behind China in clean energy: Locke

TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - The United States could fall behind China and other countries in clean energy technology unless Congress passes energy legislation, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Saturday.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (C) looks at a water dispenser at a Homebasix supermarket from America, in Tianjin, May 22, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Many U.S. investors were reluctant to plough money into big solar, wind and other clean energy sectors until they knew what technologies U.S. government policy was going to favor, he said.

“There’s too much capital sitting on the sidelines for lack of an energy policy,” Locke said during a stop at U.S. and Chinese joint venture project to build batteries for electric vehicles.

“The longer we wait, the more that others, whether it’s China, Germany and other countries, will be moving ahead.”

While legislation to fight global warming and provide stronger economic incentives for renewables energy still faces an uncertain fate in Congress, China is pushing clean energy projects on a number of fronts.

“The opportunities are stunning in China because China has enormous economic growth and that economic growth has led to enormous demands for energy,” said Locke, who headed a group of 24 U.S. clean energy companies on a trade mission to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing this week.

The joint venture between U.S. company Coda and its Chinese partner, Tianjin Lishen Battery, was a model of how cooperation in the clean energy sector could create jobs in both countries, Locke said.

Lishen builds the batteries for an electric vehicle that Coda plans to sell in the United States. The Chinese state-owned oil company, CNOOC, is also an investor in the project.

Locke also visited the Tianjin facility of a joint venture between United Solar Ovonic, a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices, and Tianjin Jinneng Investment Company to convert U.S.-made solar cells into solar modules for the Chinese market.

“We do about 75 percent of the manufacturing in Michigan and then we roll it up and we ship it to Tianjin, where they finish it, cut it up into the sizes that they need,” said Uni-Solar Vice President Martha Duggan.

Uni-Solar signed an agreement during Locke’s trip to sell 500 kilowatts of its thin-film solar laminates to NYKE Solar Integrators, a Chinese company, for a demonstration project.

“Our theory is that by doing this particular business model, we’re creating and sustaining jobs in Michigan and in China,” Duggan said.

Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Nick Macfie