California and China Strengthen Cleantech Ties as Trade War Smolders
November 27, 2019
CHENGDU, CHINA — At least a dozen cranes are visible from the Holiday Inn at Tianfu New Area, a state designated development zone on the outskirts of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.
The Tianfu New Area is so new, in fact, that the streets and sidewalks below the towering construction equipment are virtually empty.
As Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have established themselves as epicenters for high-tech investment and innovation, the Chinese government has shifted its focus to building out a competitive technology ecosystem in this cloudy inland metropolis.
Chengdu is already home to several large international corporations, including Dell and IBM. The Chinese tech giant Huawei operates a research center in Chengdu, and recently rolled out multi-dimensional 5G network across the city.
Chengdu’s Tianfu New Area was approved in 2014 to serve as a model for sustainable urban development and a hub for strategic new industries. Now, it is where key stakeholders are concentrating efforts to expand their work on the “Energy Internet,” or the deep integration of energy and information technology, which was identified as a strategic focus area in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan.
In June, a group of prominent companies, government leaders, researchers and startups from both sides of the Pacific gathered at the Tianfu New Area convention center for the first annual Energy Internet Innovation and Entrepreneurship Summit.
“The Energy Internet has become a very important part of our strategy for power [sector] development, the integration of power architecture to increase the percentage of renewable energy in our energy mix, as well as promote the efficient utilization of energy,” Yinong Zhao, deputy director of the Department of Power at China’s National Energy Administration, said in his opening remarks at the summit, communicated via translator.
He added that in today’s globalized energy economy “strengthening dialogue is the only way to promote a win-win future.”
The first day of the conference also marked the launch of Tsinghua University’s Energy Internet Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, a newly built research facility and co-working space equipped with a live power grid simulation testing system. The center — operated in partnership with the Oakland, California-based cleantech accelerator New Energy Nexus — also serves as launch pad for energy startups looking to do business in China.
Despite the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, California policy and business leaders have forged ahead with efforts to collaborate with China on the advancement of low-carbon energy technologies considered both financially lucrative and critical to mitigating the worst impacts of climate change.
U.S.-China relations have been on the rocks for over a year, with both countries imposing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods.
Top U.S. officials held a phone call with China’s lead trade negotiator this week, and both parties said they remain committed to reaching a “phase one” trade agreement. But tensions remain high as past talks have ended in near-collapse.
“Obviously it’s a period of great tension right now between the U.S. and China,” said David Hochschild, chair of the California Energy Commission (CEC), in an interview over breakfast in Chengdu. “That’s why it’s more important than ever that we’re here representing California, because we want a strong relationship and a strong partnership.”
As economic and technology development powerhouses, California and China have a unique opportunity to partner in building a clean energy future at home and abroad, Hochschild said.
“I think the ability to scale and innovate is incredibly strong in China and California,” he said. “I actually think it’s the most important strategic relationship on energy that there is right now.”
Chinese energy companies visit the Bay Area
Earlier this month, New Energy Nexus hosted a delegation of Chinese energy industry professionals on a tour of the Bay Area’s clean energy sector, building upon relationships established in Chengdu.
“The whole idea is to introduce Chinese clean energy companies to California’s cleantech ecosystem, as we have a very unique one, and to encourage and inspire the same type of ecosystem to grow within China,” said Andrew Chang, director of the New Energy Nexus China program out of Shanghai.