China is both a friend and a foe to the greentech world.
Duke Energy has commissioned a study to explore what its growing relationship with companies and research institutions in China would mean on issues such as jobs creation, technology development. With a still struggling U.S. economy, any business deals that appear to create more jobs in the China than the United States have generated harsh rhetoric on the Capitol Hill.
The study is nearly complete, and the results should quell some concerns, said David Mohler, chief technology officer of Duke Energy, at the Dow Jones Alternative Energy Conference just south of San Francisco Tuesday.
"It will show that we will in fact create jobs and values for both countries. Not one or the other," Mohler said. "It's not a matter of exporting U.S. jobs or manufacturing to China, but to create values in both countries."
For skeptics, the findings could seem self-serving. After all, Duke is teaming up with a Chinese utility, China Huaneng Group, to explore carbon capture and sequestration and deployment.
Duke's affiliate that builds and operates power plants recently announced a deal with China's ENN Solar Energy, which makes amorphous silicon solar panels and develops power plants, to bid for utility-scale power plant projects in the U.S. (see Chinese Company to Build Solar Power Plants in the U.S. With Duke).
For Duke, working with Chinese companies is a necessity to modernize its fleet of power plants and meet current and anticipated mandates to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Charlotte, N.C.-based utility is the third largest emissions emitter in the country, and it has a $25 billion, five-year plan to replace its power plants in North and South America with more efficient ones, Mohler said.
Mohler said he and Duke CEO Jim Rogers began to look at how the company would achieve its modernization plan two years ago. One of the answers was across the Pacific Ocean.
"China is so big and building the electrical infrastructure so fast that no matter what they do, they will set the curve," Mohler said. "We can get in and be part of it, or we can sit on the sideline and let it be done to us."
Duke isn't interested in creating intellectual property in its research agreement with Huaneng, Mohler added. Rather, Duke wants to use Huaneng's know-how in capturing carbon dioxide and reuse them for commercial products.
The U.S. and China have always had an uneasy relationship, and that tension shows up as both countries are figuring out ways to nurture their own greentech industry while reducing emissions.
The two governments have shown a keen interest in doing joint research projects for technologies that would cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy efficiencies (see DOE, China to Research Greener Buildings, Vehicles, Energy).
President Obama met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing today. Part of their conversation evolved around how the two countries and top emitters of the world could work together to minimize climate change.
Even so, some U.S. lawmakers are wary of partnering with China. When Shenyang Power Group in China and the U.S. Renewable Energy Group in Washington, D.C., along with Cielo Wind Power in Texas, announced a plan last month to build a 600-megawatt wind farm in Texas, they received a testy reception because most of the jobs that would created by this joint venture would go to China.
Today, Shenyang Power's parent company and the wind turbine supplier, A-Power Energy Generation Systems, said it would build a wind turbine factory in the U.S. that would employ 1,000 workers.
Meanwhile, General Electric just announced a deal with Shenhua Group to work on ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants (see GE Gets Into 'Cleaner Coal' in China).
For Duke, the partnership with ENN to build solar farms is just a good deal for both companies. Mohler pointed out that ENN's solar panel factory equipment came from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials.
Aside from talking about China, Mohler also talked about the company's plan for its smart grid deployment. He said the company thought about creating and selling devices for home energy management, but decided against it. Marketing consumer electronics is not Duke's specialty, and the prospect of having to dispatch workers to repair gadgets just isn't appealing or profitable.
Instead, Duke sees itself as a creator of a market for companies engineering energy monitoring and managmenet hardware and software for consumers.
"We are building up the smart grid, and that will open the market up. Let the 1,000 flower bloom there," Mohler said.
Photo of Hong Kong via Flickr/Creative Commons.