40 years ago, man landed on the moon, but also landed the first solar panel on the moon as well. The Early Apollo Surface Experiments Package consisted of two solar panels, a communications system and some instruments to send data about the moon’s environment back to Earth. NASA’s space vehicles are heavily dependent on solar power and other energy sources as fossil fuels can be impractical solutions to fuel in a constrained environment. Moreover, this is why they are now leading the development of algae biofuels, which would allow astronauts to grow fuel on long trips by culturing algae. As NASA invented new technologies to meet the demands of its environment, they made essential leaps in clean technology development, including the solar “wings” that collect the sun’s energy for use onboard the International Space Station. These advances were spurred on by President Kennedy through funding and our nation’s sense of competitiveness. It was done to meet a challenge, but it also transformed our school systems, advanced medical technology, satellites and telecommunications, and created jobs throughout the country and keeping the US ahead in the development of technology. The economic, social and technological advances from the space race permeate our society. Just as President Kennedy challenged us to maintain our technological competitiveness, President Obama has challenged us to stay ahead in clean energy tech. But unfortunately, the US is not winning the clean energy race. “China is ‘winning’ the race to develop clean energy, and the U.S. must put in place policies to promote alternative energy if it is to regain its footing,” mentioned in this article. Last week, Center for American Progress’ Julian L. Wong testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on China’s clean energy industry. “The United States won the race to the moon, but we’re losing the race for a sustainable Earth.” In his testimony, he lays out a few facts about China’s clean energy industry:
- China’s efficiency programs alone will reduce over one billion tons of carbon dioxide per year starting 2010 compared to business-as-usual—equivalent to taking 200 million cars off the road.
- China is now a leading innovator in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
- China’s total wind energy capacity doubled in each of the past four years. This year it will surpass the U.S. as the largest installer of new wind capacity.
- China is also the world’s largest supplier of solar panels, with 40 percent of the world’s market share. Of the world’s top ten solar companies by output, three are Chinese while just one is American.
Strong national policies that require efficiency gains, a high renewable energy standard and economic zones that support the manufacture of low carbon technologies have all contributed to China’s lead in the clean energy race. In order for the US to win the race to a sustainable future, we must pass strong legislation that funds clean energy and moves us away from fossil fuels. The measures in the climate bill that recently passed that House of Representatives would incentivize clean energy and help lead the way to regaining our lead in clean energy innovation. And, just as in the space race, this investment and this challenge will also create jobs throughout the country and spur investments that save consumers money. NASA’s innovations in energy was driven in part because of a constrained environment. They needed fuels that weren’t toxic. What we know now is that all environments are constrained—and to pollute in one area has massive global consequences. Clean energy makes sense for a spacecraft; it also makes sense for our homes and office buildings.