U.S. businesses not buying President Obama’s rhetoric on energy ‘race’ with China

The U.S. has “raced” to control space exploration, nuclear arms and electronics. Since taking office, President Obama has introduced the idea that the U.S. is now battling China — the world’s largest polluter — in new race for world domination. A clean energy race.

“The nation that leads in the creation of a clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy,” the president has said. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has repeated the message several times, creating a frenzy to “go green,” before China does.

If America really is in such a race, the Energy and Commerce Departments should talk.

According to Ernst & Young’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, China ranks first among 30 countries on building renewable-energy infrastructure. In the fourth quarter of 2010, China invested more than $10 billion in its wind energy sector — half the total global investment of just over $20 billion. The U.S. fell from first in May to fifth in November, because of its relatively low investment.

Consulting firm Accenture said in a January report on transportation technologies, “Whoever wins the race to commercialize technology first may have unique advantages. These include intellectual property ownership and opportunities to provide jobs to their domestic population.”

Accenture is betting on a Chinese victory, if China’s government continues to prop up alternative energy investment. “Our expectation is that China will be able to achieve its targets faster, but in a narrower field of technologies. While the United States may be slower in its development, its openness to new and disruptive technologies is more likely to generate a breakthrough solution,” Accenture said in its report.

The U.S. Department of Energy is putting more than $16 billion from the economic stimulus into the green technology sector, but at the same time the Commerce Department is pushing to relax rules that would allow U.S. businesses to invest in China’s green technology sector.

At its most recent meeting in December, the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, composed of trade representatives from both countries, agreed to make it easier for American companies to provide equipment for large-scale wind power projects in China. And American companies will find it easier to submit information on technical requirements for large Chinese wind-power projects.