California's energy innovations help build a unique link with China.

Author:Osterkorn, Marianne
Position:COMMENTARY: Connected Up
 
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Not long after the Californian power outages of 2000 to 2001, computer manufacturers Compaq and Hewlett Packard (HP) merged into one company. The on-again, off-again energy supply must have been an unwelcome problem for the two companies, which at the time wanted to guarantee complete business continuity. The companies' histories of careful energy policies did not entirely shield them from the crisis, but helped them manage it.

Before the merger, both had cultivated energy-conscious environments, culminating in a 16 percent cut in energy consumption in 2001 at Compaq's facilities. Most notably, Compaq doubled the manufacturing space and occupancy at its Fremont plant without raising energy use. HP says it saves $2 million each year through a raft of measures including the installation of new energy-efficient chillers and changes to lighting.

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These companies' reforms are not unusual, and have been part of a bigger movement in California driven not only by the supply crisis but also by a relatively environmentally friendly culture and the energy thirst of some of its high-tech industries. There is recognition that decoupling power use from market growth is possible, lowers risk and cuts costs. As a result, this forward-thinking state has built up a portfolio of skills and techniques that have generated a globally unique statistic: stable per capita energy use over 30 years, accompanied by a 40 percent growth in its economy. (Unfortunately, however, California's rapid population growth means that total state energy use keeps going up.)

A group of energy campaigners want to use California's energy expertise to create a freely available U.S. export, with China as its first port of call. Booming but struggling, China is in the middle of its own energy drama and trying to regain control over escalating demand. Barbara Finamore, director of the China Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explains: "When the government looked at the results of our audit, they couldn't believe there was so much energy-efficiency potential available at such a low price. The Californian model is one the Chinese really want to emulate."

The NRDC's unusual partnership with Chinese government officials and company managers over the last two years was not confined to the rapidly growing fleet of power stations, unlike previous Chinese programs. Instead, the consortium, working alongside the U.S.-based Institute for Market...

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