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Remarks at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

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Friday, May, 21, 2010

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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

Press release

Thank you for inviting me to be here today in this beautiful and historic setting.

I appreciate all the students and professors joining us today both in person and via the Internet.

And I am honored to be speaking with you today at Tsinghua University, one of China's most prestigious institutions of higher learning, and a place that has produced many of China's most revered and influential scholars.   

Tsinghua is a national center of cultural and academic excellence with a rich and profound history, and a strong commitment to scientific and mathematical discovery.

So it is only natural that today, Tsinghua is the preeminent clean energy academic think tank in China and a central player in clean energy research and design.

Tsinghua’s Low Carbon Energy Lab has played an important role in the formation of China's clean energy policies; and I was pleased to learn that both U.S. and Chinese researchers have been working side-by-side to develop new energy technologies.

The spirit of academic cooperation that is seen every day at Tsinghua holds important lessons for American and Chinese business and government leaders seeking to solve perhaps the most daunting challenge the modern world has ever faced: How to meet the energy needs of the 21st century without creating an environmental disaster.

A few years ago, the late Nobel prize-winning chemist Richard Smalley began giving lectures around the world identifying the top 10 global problems of the next 50 years. 

Dr. Smalley highlighted:

  • Access to water, food and education;
  • The problems of poverty, overpopulation, terrorism and disease; and
  • Issues of education and democracy. 

But there was one issue that trumped all the others: energy. 

Dr. Smalley said that: “If you imagined a world where the energy problem was solved, you would find that at least five of the nine remaining problems on the list now had a path to a reasonable answer. In the absence of solving the energy problem, it’s not clear there is an acceptable answer at all.”

So, what exactly is our “energy problem?”

To begin with, we need more of it – a lot more. 

By mid-century, global energy use is going to double. 

To meet these future energy demands, we’d have to turn on two new 1,000-megawatt power plants this week, and every week for the next 30 years.

But we’re not looking for any old kind of energy.   

This new energy has to be clean to avoid catastrophic climate change.  And it has to be cheap to keep our economies growing.

I believe that the United States and China must lead the way in solving this problem.

We are, on the one hand, the two largest emitters of climate change causing greenhouse gases in the world.  This alone gives us a moral responsibility to help prevent the rising tides, increased droughts, and more unpredictable weather that is in our future if we do not reduce our fossil fuel consumption.

That is the very real downside of our energy and climate challenge. 

But there is opportunity in any challenge.  Energy is no different.

I believe the development of the clean energy and energy efficiency technologies that we need to curb greenhouse gas emissions could be the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.

Worldwide, energy is a $6 trillion market, and the fastest-growing sector is of the cleaner, greener kind.

That is why this week, I have come to China with over 24 American companies that represent the best America has to offer in the areas of clean energy, energy efficiency, and electricity storage, transmission and distribution.

These companies already possess cutting-edge technologies that can help China meet its ambitious energy efficiency goals, while also spurring the creation of new jobs in China and the United States.

But it is also important to remember that many of the technologies needed to successfully cope with climate change simply don’t exist yet.

It could be next-generation biofuels, modular nuclear reactors, electric cars charged by a smart electricity grid, or carbon capture and storage that completely changes the way the world uses energy.

It could be all of the above.  Or it could be other innovations that we have yet to imagine.

That’s where the students, researchers and scientists of Tsinghua University come in. 

The United States, China and the entire world are counting on bright, motivated people like all of you to discover these new energy technologies – whether it’s done in an academic research lab or as an employee of an energy company. 

Although our energy problems are daunting, they do have solutions.

And many of them can be solved with the science, math and engineering skills that you learn here every day.

With your talent, your creativity and your ingenuity, you have the power to make a real difference, and I hope you will seize that opportunity.

I am looking forward to touring Tsinghua’s grounds to see some of the great work you are doing up close. 

In the meantime, I know you probably have plenty of questions for me, which I will be happy to answer. . . .