China’s Sunshine Boys
By Thomas L. Friedman
So here’s a little news quiz: Guess who’s the seventh-richest man in China today, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1.43 billion?
Answer: Shi Zhengrong. Now guess what he does. Real estate? No. Banking? No. Manufacturing for Wal-Mart? No. Construction? No.
Mr. Shi is China’s leading maker of silicon photovoltaic solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. Yes, the seventh-richest man in China is a green entrepreneur! It should only happen in America.
Mr. Shi thinks, as I do, that renewable clean power – wind, solar, bio-fuels – is going to be the growth industry of the 21st century, and he wants to make sure that China and his company, Suntech Power Holdings, are the leaders. Only 43 years old and full of energy himself, Mr. Shi hopes to do for solar energy what China did for tennis shoes: drive down the cost so that millions of people who could not afford solar photovoltaic panels will be able to do so.
As an environmentalist, I wish him well. As an American, I worry that if we don’t start doing everything we can to develop our own clean power, we’re going to miss out on the green industrial revolution. Today, most of our hybrid cars are imported from Japan. Tomorrow, if Mr. Shi has his way, most of our solar panels will come from China.
What Mr. Shi understands is that China is going to have to go green. Its rivers and air are becoming so polluted it has no choice. In fact, as he and I spoke in his 66th-floor office in Shanghai, the air was so dirty you could barely make out the skyscrapers down the street. America, alas, still seems to think it has a choice in going green. So while China will be compelled to move into this industry, U.S. companies may or may not, depending on whether states, or Washington, require power providers to generate energy from renewables.
For years our brain-dead Congress thought it was helping our power companies and manufacturers by not imposing tough energy-efficiency standards on them. In fact, it was just helping some of them commit suicide. Congress’s idiotic decision not to impose higher mileage standards on U.S. carmakers helped Detroit miss the market and almost go bankrupt. China already has higher mileage standards for its autos than we do.
China’s Sunshine Boys