China As The Clean Tech Hub of the World

The majority of the world population will be living in an urban sprawl—about 3.3 billion people in cities and towns. Jakarta, Bangkok, Mumbai, Shanghai, Manilla, and many other Asian cities that will join Tokyo in the ranks of mega-cities in the next 20 years. Around the world people will be migrating to cities in search for jobs and to pursue their version of the American dream. The conundrum is how do we accommodate so many people in the same space.

McKinsey Global Institute reported that China is urbanizing at a rapid rate. The population is expected to exceed well over 1.1 billion people. There’s a possibility that 350 billion people will be moving into China’s mega-cities similar to the size of cities like New York or Tokyo. Environmentalists in the area of urban planning and design are considering Cradle-to-Cradle. William McDonough talks about his architectural design firm involvement in designing 12 major cities in China and housing for 400 million people over the next decade. The approach, I would like to mention in reference to Dongtan the city that failed, is the need for ecological design using Arcology, which accounts for rural farming and sustainable living. Paolo Soleri—accredited as the father of Arcology—developed the concept of cities embodying the fusion of architecture and ecology that would eliminate the need for automobile transportation, and place living, working, public spaces within easy reach.

An Economist article mentions “bold environmental solutions were being made to policy makers in building cities of tomorrow’s future.” China’s policy-makers experimental attitudes for urban financial planning and design developed since the 1980s. An example of such long-term and forward thinking was the $30 billion dollar private sector investment in the high-speed rail system across China using Maglev tech. The R&D in Maglev allowed for the urban planning of special economic zones like Shenzhen. Economic zones are currently under way in China with the potential of transforming into cities of the future for a “sustainable living, sustainable way of life”—which includes green-building codes and subsidies for electric cars limiting carbon emissions.

Why? Because without sustainable processes, China will continue to burn dirty coal, erode soil for its agriculture, and maybe experience a potential energy crisis. One proposal for their economic zone Liuzhou is to use hydrology and habitat to ensure everyone in the city will have access to fresh air, fresh water, and direct sunlight coming into living spaces. Liuzhou construction model also includes community-sponsored agriculture for the farmers on the rooftops of the buildings, work-living space on the ground floor, and a solar-powered industrial sector providing energy back into the city. Parks, buildings, and transportation have a layout for an ecological infrastructure. The waste system will go through a sewage treatment plant to be sold as assets and not liabilities. The water is taken into the wetlands for constructive habitat restoration and fertilized natural gas will go back into the city for energy use.

The Story Behind Dongtan 

Arup, a British design firm, developed the eco-city project called Dongtan on the alluvial island near Shanghai. The project is now in the hands of Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC), a state owned developer. SIIC placed construction on hold due to the scandal of the Shanghai Communist Party chief Chen Liangyu being sacked for property-related corruption and later convicted, allowing construction permits to lapse. Richard Brubaker, founder and managing director of China Strategic Development Partners writes:

“What I have always found amazing about these eco-towns is how seemingly easy it is for people to, first, tout these as a sign of China’s commitment to the environment and then, second, be surprised when things fail.”

The planning was done with little awareness of how the local people lived on farms and near the wetlands. Dongtan wasn’t build in time for the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. According to news in 2011, Dongtan is back on the drawing board.

The Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy

Well-managed cities can sustain the life of people living within smaller communities connecting them to the major urban cities. In 2009, the Chairperson of JUCCCE, Peggy Liu tweeted in mid-conversation to a Chinese Environment Lawyer, There’s a need for a Smarter Grid.”

The green organization, JUCCCE, was launched out of the MIT forum on the Future of Energy in China (April 2007). Their platform is to promote partnerships and dialogue on US-China collaboration on clean energy in a win-win strategy. The investments are made to R&D at Universities in exchange for access to those technologies. The US then cements their leadership stamp on the Innovation. China audacious goal is to change from an industrial pollution emitting factory to a Clean Tech Energy Hub of the World. There’s a whole IP in scaling clean technology and energy efficiency. That is what China is doing right now at a rapid rate.

A smarter grid is the best utilization for energy use. About $7.3 billion dollars is being place behind the effort of introducing a “Smarter Grid” to Chinese cities. JUCCCE brings experts from all around the world to lecture to officials in Beijing forums. Both government officials from the US-Beijing consensus attended the last forum held in Beijing. Hilary Clinton toured and assessed China’s coal power factories. The many things that were discussed were how to build cities of the future. How to look at urban planning through an energy lens. The organization’s McKinsey advisers take the best practices from around the world on how to make green living an aspiration. JUCCCE Brain trust includes notable Innovators like Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group and member of the JUCCCE Honorary Committee who says:

China has the opportunity to be at the forefront in finding solutions to the energy problem that the world faces. JUCCCE will provide the vehicle to make this happen.” 

Since 2008, I followed through Social Media the clean tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists pioneering ideas of the future. There’s a global race to Innovate. A lot of stuff is happening inside of China that we do not get to see outside of China. If China wins the clean tech race, then the United States will be the one to capitalize on those foreign direct investments, inside the US clean tech industry coming out of Silicon Valley. Energy security fuels the growth of nations. Clean tech models will stick. We will be able to scale clean technology all across the United States.

TEDxChCh – Peggy Liu – China as the Cleantech Laboratory of the World