National Press Club

China Threatening to Outpace U.S. in Scientific Innovation, Energy Secretary Says

November 29, 2010

Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Photo/Image: Rodrigo A.-Valderrama

The U.S. faces a major crisis in its ability to provide scientific innovation, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at a Club Luncheon Nov. 29. He described the agency’s efforts to give the nation an edge through investments in clean energy innovation.

Noting rapid advances in research and development spending and trends by other nations, especially China, Chu said America’s technological leadership -- the key to its prosperity -- is at risk.

“When it comes to innovation, Americans don’t take a back seat to anyone, and we certainly won’t start now,” he said.

But China, in particular, and other nations are aggressively moving forward in important areas such as wind power, high-speed rail and the development and use of nuclear reactors.

“Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it’s time for America to do what we do best: innovate,” Chu said.

Chu, who jointly won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1997, has focused his career on seeking solutions to energy challenges and halting global climate change. Before taking over the Energy Department’s top position, he headed DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, driving research of alternative and renewable energy technologies.

China’s investment in clean energy technologies is both a challenge and an opportunity for the United States, he said. Opportunities with China can be garnered through scientific partnerships since the Chinese have experience with deploying large-scale technologies, but America cannot afford to take its scientific leadership for granted, he said.

The United States must step up its innovation or risk losing its leadership role, he said. Chu said China has deployed the world’s first ultra-high voltage alternating- and direct-current lines that are more efficient and can transmit more power over longer distances than those that currently exist in the United States. High-speed rail, advanced coal technology, nuclear power, and alternative energy vehicles are also areas of rapid innovation the Chinese are developing. he said.

Chu also pointed to China's leadership in renewable energy, noting that it is gaining ground faster in the installation of wind power than any other nation in the world. China is home to three of the world’s top 10 wind turbine manufacturers and five of the top 10 silicon-based photovoltaic system manufacturers.

He also said that just within the past month, China’s National University of Defense Technology launched the world’s fastest supercomputer.

-- Terry Hill, thill@terryhillcommunications.com