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  • The Power of Renewables: Opportunities and Challenges for China and the United States
  • Herman F. Huang (bio)
National Academy of Engineering, National Research Council, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Chinese Academy of Engineering. The Power of Renewables: Opportunities and Challenges for China and the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2010. xv, 240 pp. Paperback $36.00, ISBN 978-0-309-16000-1.

China has experienced rapid economic growth throughout the past three decades. While many other countries are slowly recovering from the recent global economic downturn, China's gross domestic product grew by 10.3 percent in 2010 and is forecast to grow by another 9.0 percent in 2011. 1This growth has been accompanied by soaring energy consumption. In fact, China and the United States are now the top two energy users among all nations, and they rely largely on fossil fuels to satisfy their energy needs. Data from 2005 show that coal supplied 69 percent of China's energy, of which 71 percent was used by industry. In the United States, energy was furnished largely by petroleum (40 percent) and was consumed by industry (32 percent) and transportation (28 percent). 2Increased interest in renewable energy has resulted from greater awareness of greenhouse gas emissions and other adverse environmental impacts of fossil fuels. Although both nations have abundant renewable energy resources, technical and economic challenges have hindered their development and utilization.

Therefore, The Power of Renewables: Opportunities and Challenges for China and the United States, a comparative study of renewable energy development in China and the United States, is a timely publication. This book is the latest product of an ongoing collaboration between the U.S. National Academies (National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council) and the Chinese Academies (Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering). The Academies' last joint publication, Energy Futures and Urban Air Pollution, was published in 2007 (and was previously reviewed in China Review International).

To conduct this study, each country's Academies appointed committees of experts in renewable energy. Chaired by Lawrence Papay of the National Academy of Engineering, the American committee consists of ten members, who hold positions at universities, nonprofit organizations, and consulting firms. The Chinese counterpart, chaired by Zhao Zhongxian of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, contains twenty-three members; most are at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Power of Renewablesis composed of a summary, seven chapters, and four appendices. The first chapter presents the motivation for the current study and offers an overview of the book. Chapter 2 examines the quality, quantity, and geographical distribution of renewable resources in the United States and China: wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and hydrokinetic. Among these resources, solar and wind have significantly more energy and power potential than the others. The state of current renewable energy technology and potential opportunities for further development are covered in chapter 3. As described in chapter 4, life cycle assessment is a method by which one can compare the resource consumption and [End Page 221]environmental impacts of various energy generation technologies. In addition to other greenhouse gases, electricity generation in 2007 produced 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the United States and 2.0 billion tons in China. A shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy will greatly reduce these emissions. The authors compare American and Chinese renewable energy policies in chapter 5. They also identify financial and logistical obstacles to the commercial deployment of renewable energy. Chapter 6 focuses on the transition to a sustainable energy economy, that is, one based on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. According to the authors, a successful transformation requires involvement on the part of governments, the energy industry, and society. The final chapter summarizes the history of U.S.-Chinese collaboration, identifies barriers to cooperation, and explores opportunities for expanded cooperation.

Chapters 2 through 7 offer a total of fifteen recommendations, ten of which are reiterated in the summary. These suggestions are intended to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy resources and increase their cost-competitiveness compared to fossil fuels. The recommendations relate to areas such as energy storage systems (p. 88), technical standards for renewable...