Expert Commentary

Energy innovation and competition among U.S., China, India, Brazil

2010 study by the Council on Foreign Relations on issues of technology research and development among major countries.

As the economic output and populations of China, India and Brazil grow, the countries’ energy consumption will continue to rise. Because traditional energy sources such as oil and coal are both nonrenewable and limited, these countries are pushing to develop new forms of alternative energy. Given that the United States remains the highest per capita consumer of energy, the need for sustainable energy sources is considered by many domestically to be a vital national interest.

A 2010 report by the Council on Foreign Relations, “Driving Technology, Competition and Cooperation Among the U.S., China, India and Brazil,” compared these four countries both in their predicted rate of consumption for the next 20 years, as well as in their efforts to respond to climate change through government support of innovative technologies. To provide policy recommendations for the United States, the researchers summarize what they view as advantages and disadvantages of each country’s strategy.

The report’s findings include:

  • Intellectual property rights will play a major role in encouraging innovation; countries stronger laws have already seen more investment in alternative energy research and development.
  • Policies in India, Brazil and China serve as trade barriers for low-carbon technologies, slowing the adoption of alternative energy technology.
  • In the three countries the majority of new-energy researchers work in government, whereas in the United States, the majority are employed by industry.
  • China is already the largest producer of many of the existing alternative-energy products such as solar photovoltaic cells and modules.
  • Chinese energy consumption is expected to nearly double by 2030, and its emissions are predicted to increase by 90%, nearly all from oil and coal sources.
  • Only 40% of Indians currently have access to electricity, and nearly 75% of rural Indians still cook with firewood. By 2030, the country’s carbon emissions are expected to increase 160%.
  • India is emerging as a leader in low-carbon energy technology exports to developing countries, particularly Africa.
  • With 85% hydroelectric power, Brazil is one of the cleanest energy producers. But this is expected to change drastically as electricity demand is predicted to rise by 6% annually through 2019.
  • Brazil is the largest world exporter of biofuels and is expected to continue to be for at least the next two decades.

To better compete with Brazil, China, and India, the researchers conclude that the United States “should encourage openness to commercial low-carbon technology flows on the part of the major emerging economies while actively promoting the spread of technology itself.”

Tags: carbon, China, coal, development, economy, greenhouse gases, technology, Africa, Asia, renewable energy

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