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Professor Explores China's Surge in Green Energy

Green Innovation in China China's use of technology transfers, which allow companies to license technologies from an international firm and manufacture it domestically, allowed the country to emerge ahead of the United States as the No. 1 user of wind energy in the world.

January 23, 2013 – During the past decade, China has emerged as a top user of green-energy technologies despite being a latecomer to the movement, says Georgetown professor Joanna Lewis in her new book.

Lewis, an assistant professor of science, technology and international affairs in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, says her new book, Green Innovation in China: China’s Wind Power Industry and the Global Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy (Columbia University Press, 2012), examines the model China used to utilize, develop and manufacture wind energy technology.

“What I’m really trying to look at is how China has been able to utilize technologies that were initially developed by and for the developed world, how the country has integrated these technologies into their own economy and what this means for its ability to transition to cleaner technologies,” she says.

Emerging Industry

Lewis says China used models of technology transfers – which allow companies to license a technology, such as a wind turbine, from an international company and manufacture it domestically.

These models of technology transfer have allowed the country to emerge as the No. 1 user of wind energy in the world, says Lewis. The United States ranks No. 2.

“It’s really an industry that has emerged over the past decade,” says the SFS professor.

Long Way to Go

Lewis says technology transfers have allowed the Chinese to “build a knowledge base in this sector,” leading to “a handful of companies in China able to innovate and develop the next generation of wind turbines” and thus build out their innovation infrastructure.

Though China dominates the wind power industry, it will not single-handedly solve China’s environmental issues – air and water pollution caused from coal production and consumption, which Lewis says are huge problems and “have quite a long way to go” before they are fixed.

Models of Cooperation

Lewis’ next research project, which she started last year with a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, builds off her current book but looks more in depth at the Chinese government’s role in cooperating and collaborating with other governments to develop clean-energy technologies.

“My project looks at models of cooperation … at intellectual property issues surrounding these types of international collaborations and the types of technologies coming out of it,” she says.

China’s Interests

Joanna Lewis Joanna Lewis, assistant professor of science, technology and international affairs, says China's goal is "to develop a set of energy technologies that will allow them to meet their economic development goals in a sustainable way as possible – both environmentally and economically sustainable."

Although many countries and international organizations are intently tuned into how China’s energy and economic goals will affect the global market, Lewis says the country is primarily concerned with its own interests.

“I think we all have a tendency to look at China’s goals in terms of global competition…” Lewis explains. “But China’s going to do what’s best for [China].”

She says the Chinese would like to increase their own energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and promote clean energy to bolster the domestic economy.

“I think that their goal is to develop a set of energy technologies that will allow them to meet their economic development goals in as sustainable a way as possible – both environmentally and economically sustainable,” Lewis says.  

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