"I think it is unacceptable for the Chinese today to be larger in wind power and in solar panels and photovoltaic manufacturing than all of Europe put together -- forget the United States."
Maurice Ferre on Thursday, July 1st, 2010 in an editorial board meeting
Maurice Ferre warns of China's rise as an alternative energy leader
On June 1, 2010, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Maurice Ferre, dropped by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newsroom and met with the editorial board. Among other things, he talked about a new economic development policy based on moving the country away from dependence on oil.
Near the end of the 7:12-minute-long clip posted on YouTube, Ferre weighs in on the need for the United States to pursue renewable energy sources. He also laments our standing in the world in the renewables sector: "I think it is unacceptable for the Chinese today to be larger in wind power and in solar panels and photovoltaic manufacturing than all of Europe put together—forget the United States."
In other words, Ferre, a former mayor of Miami, is bothered that China has emerged in recent years as a global leader in the manufacturing of windmills, solar panels, and other off-the-grid gadgets, and Europe and the United States are left in the dust. We wondered whether he's right about China’s dominance and how far ahead it really is.
We asked Ferre where his numbers came from, and he said he read it in The Economist recently though he didn't have specifics. We tracked down a Feb. 3 article in the monthly magazine. Titled "Blown Away: China and America added most wind capacity in 2009," the article was about how America's "reign could be short-lived as China continues its enormous rate of increase" in wind capacity. Bear in mind, though, this was about the amount of energy produced by wind technology in China, not about wind-turbine manufacturing.
Similarly, the nonprofits we found that study global renewable energy focus mainly on the production and energy capacity of a country -- and not so much its manufacturing. In other words, they don't concentrate solely on the building of wind turbines and solar panels.
We contacted Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank that issued an 80-page "Global Status Report" on renewable energy earlier this year. Ferre is indeed correct when he notes the rise of China as it becomes a competitive force in the renewable energy sector.
"Manufacturing leadership is shifting from Europe to Asia as countries like China, India, and South Korea continue to increase their commitments to renewable energy," opens the report. "In 2009, China produced 40 percent of the world's solar [photovoltaic] supply, 30 percent of the world's wind turbines (up from 10 percent in 2007), and 77 percent of the world's solar hot water collectors."
The report offers a breakdown of the market shares of the top 10 wind turbine manufacturers for 2009, and the market shares for the top 15 solar photovoltaic, or PV, manufacturers, for 2009. (Photovoltaic manufacturers make solar cells, usually out of silicon, that convert the sun's light into electricity. Solar cells are what's inside the solar panels we're familiar with.) Among wind turbine manufacturers, China holds 21 percent of the market, compared to Europe's 38 percent. India, the United States, and "others" make up 39 percent. It must be noted that both lists don't take into account the remaining firms.
Among market shares for the top 15 solar PV manufacturers, China came out on top, according to the Worldwatch Institute report, with 23 percent, compared to Europe's 5 percent and the United States' 14 percent.
"It's been the manufacturing leader in photovoltaic modules for at least a couple of years, and long ago took the lead in solar water heating components," wrote Seth Masia, deputy editor of SOLAR TODAY, a magazine affiliated with the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society.
Indeed, China's ascent as a photovoltaic manufacturer is consistent with what we found elsewhere. Once dominating as the world's largest PV manufacturer (in the 1980s), the United States has since lost its footing. In 2008, the U.S. produced only 5 percent of the world's solar cells, with Europe and Asia leading global production, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The European Photovoltaic Industry Association reports that in 2009 China manufactured 54 percent of the world’s silicon module capacity, compared to 28 percent for Europe and 5 percent for the US.
It would have been so much easier for PolitiFact to check on the production of energy rather than equipment, and China does have a good story to tell in energy capacity. China added more renewable-power capacity than any other country in the world in 2009, according to the Worldwatch Institute.
But Ferre's point was manufacturing when he met with the Sun-Sentinel editorial board. His statement that China is larger than Europe and the United States in the manufacturing of wind and solar power equipment is correct for photovoltaics, but not for wind. The Worldwatch Insitute report points out that, among the world’s top 15 wind turbine manufacturers, Europe came out ahead of China in 2009. That gives Ferre's statement a rating of Half True.