Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

U.S. politicians have been warning for years that America couldn't let China win the clean energy race. That's exactly what has happened, with the trends most stark in electric cars, solar and nuclear energy.

Why it matters: Building for the last decade, these trends have accelerated in the last couple of years. Politicians and business leaders said America's dominance in this space would bring jobs to the U.S. and security to our clean-energy resources, and now both of those goals are at risk.

Expand chart
Data: Rhodium Group; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

Why China is doing this:

  1. It needs to literally energize its 1.4 billion people, both how they travel and how they power their homes.
  2. Its leadership feels compelled to do it in a cleaner way than the U.S. did. Air pollution is at dangerously high levels across many of China's cities. People are seeing and feeling health repercussions of China's dependence on fossil fuel-fired cars and power plants in an acute way. Traditional air pollution, not climate change, is a big driver.
  3. China sees this as a national security and geopolitical strategy to both make and deploy clean-energy technologies.

Why America is losing:

  1. As a Democratically run nation, it can't push policies and subsidies by fiat. "China is able to simply mandate things in a way that would take us much longer to do," said Ethan ZIndler, head of Americas at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
  2. The United States has no long-term, coordinated energy and environment strategy, unlike China. "It's very obvious the U.S. would have all the technology, innovation potential and money to be the leader," said Paolo Frankl, head of the renewable energy division at the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group tracking global energy trends. "Ultimately, it's a question of strategic choices."

The U.S. is still creating technologies, the dozen experts interviewed for this article said. But China has blown past the U.S. in actually deploying them, and it's beginning to edge out America on the innovation front too. Let's take a look at three key areas:

Electric vehicles

Chinese manufacturers made nearly half of all electric vehicles sold in the world last year, a big change from just two years ago, according to newly released data from the IEA.

"There really is a concerted effort, central government led and provincial government supported, to push an electric vehicle policy that is one order of magnitude more aggressive than what's taken place in the U.S.," said Trevor Houser, partner at the Rhodium Group, a research firm.

Check out this recent piece by my colleagues Steve LeVine and Ben Geman for a deeper dive into China and it's electric vehicles push.

Solar energy

For the last several years, China has been the world's leader in solar panel manufacturing, driven by its expertise in broader manufacturing. Chinese companies account for around 60% of total annual solar cell manufacturing capacity globally, the IEA says.

More recently, China has blown past other countries as the top deployer of solar energy too, accounting for about 50% of deployment and demand.

China's dominance in this space is at the heart of a brewing trade battle between two U.S.-based (but foreign-owned) solar cell manufacturers and most of the rest of the industry. The two companies are asking the Trump administration to impose tariffs or another kind of remedy against a flood of cheap solar imports, mostly from China or Chinese-owned companies, while most of the industry is worried about prices going up.

Nuclear power

TerraPower, a company founded by Bill Gates, decided to test and ultimately deploy its new advanced nuclear technology in China. The project will include a partnership with the Chinese government and financial backing. Marcia Burkey, TerraPower's chief financial officer, said China has two things it needs to make the investment work that the U.S. doesn't: sizable electricity demand growth and long-term policy.

NuScale, a company developing another kind of advanced reactor that's smaller than what's operating today, says it's designing in the U.S. because of the safety gold standard certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Ultimately, NuScale is also eyeing China for its booming electricity market.

"Right now the focus is getting deployed and licensed in the U.S.," said Chris Colbert, chief strategy officer for NuScale. "We do think that once we do that our ability to scale this technology across the globe, including in China, could happen pretty rapidly."

Go deeper

26 mins ago - World

Iran's nuclear dilemma: Ramp up now or wait for Biden

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The world is waiting to see whether Iran will strike back at Israel or the U.S. over the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran's military nuclear program.

Why it matters: Senior Iranian officials have stressed that Iran will take revenge against the perpetrators, but also respond by continuing Fakhrizadeh’s legacy — the nuclear program. The key question is whether Iran will accelerate that work now, or wait to see what President-elect Biden puts on the table.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

U.K. first nation to clear Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

A health care worker during the phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by Pfizer and BioNTech in Ankara, Turkey, in October. Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's government announced Wednesday it's approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, which "will be made available across the U.K. from next week."

Why it matters: The U.K. has beaten the U.S. to become the first Western country to give emergency approval for a vaccine that's found to be 95% effective with no serious side effects against a virus that's killed nearly 1.5 million people globally.

3 hours ago - World

Biden says he won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

President-elect Joe Biden during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's 25% tariffs imposed on China under the phase one trade deal will remain in place at the start of the new administration, President-elect Biden said in an interview with the New York Times published early Wednesday.

Details: "I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden said. He plans to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy," he said.