Technology

Gary Locke: Obama's Energy Salesman


The Commerce Secretary on promoting U.S. green tech in China

Isn't trying to sell green technology to China like bringing coals to Newcastle?

No, because the Chinese can't do it all. A lot of their technology isn't as advanced as the United States', and it's going to be much more expensive for them to not go with the very best technology and therefore have to revamp or buy again in a few years.

China has really ramped up production of green tech, no?

Not all of the wind turbines are of the same quality, so there are incredible opportunities for U.S. companies. Especially when it's in areas of energy efficiency—that's where the U.S. excels.

Many U.S. lawmakers say imports of Chinese solar panels will cost American jobs. Do you agree?

That's why the U.S. has to have an energy policy. Companies aren't going to put their time and capital and R&D into Technology A if ultimately U.S. energy policy is going to favor Technology B. At the same time, the Germans, the Chinese, and the Danes are rushing ahead. If we don't watch out, we're going to wake up three or four years from now and say, "How is it that Shanghai is the Silicon Valley of clean energy, with all the jobs?"

One concern is that as the Chinese rush ahead, they may not be rushing in the right direction.

There is obviously the challenge of trying to move all the electricity generated in various parts of the country to the areas that need it. That's why they are trying to ramp up a smart grid. That's where our companies can help them maximize efficiency.

What were the most tangible successes of this trade mission?

A lot of companies were able to increase sales beyond their initial expectations, and they made incredible contacts with a lot of potential deals in the very, very near future.

Are there deals that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't come with the mission?

Some companies said that the fact that we were going to be available for the signing ceremony got the deal sealed. And some were able to increase their sales. We may even have announcements of those increased deals in the coming weeks. Several reported that they were on the cusp of sigificantly bigger orders than they ever imagined.

Drajem is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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