Pop quiz: Who's the volume dealer in alternative-energy hardware? If you said choking, smoking, coal-toking China, give yourself a carbon credit.
Consider solar cells, the least carbon-intensive option after nuclear, wind, and biomass, according to an analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2007, photovoltaic factories in the People's Republic tripled production, grabbing 35 percent of the global market and making China the world's number one producer. How about rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, critical for superefficient electric vehicles? Chinese manufacturers will soon rule that world, too. Windmills? "Prepare for the onslaught of relatively inexpensive Chinese turbines," says Steve Sawyer, head of the Global Wind Energy Council. His forecast: China will produce enough gear to generate 10 gigawatts of power annually by 2010 — more than half the capacity that the whole world installed in 2007.
China has three big reasons for jumping feetfirst into the carbon fight. Obviously, there's the threat of climate change — flooding in China's coastal cities, drought in the country's interior. Second, there's political instability: Air and water pollution is already a flash point for public protests. And then there's the burgeoning export market for green products stamped made in china.
Will renovating the planet spur the first wave of homegrown Chinese tech innovation? Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, thinks so. "China has as much or more at stake than anyone," he said at a recent corporate summit. "Solar energy, carbon sequestration — we're going to be blown away by China's progress over the next couple of decades." If only they could clean up Beijing's air in time for the summer Olympics.