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China, U.S. should work together on electric cars

Mike Splinter, Shai Agassi From Mercury News| February 23 , 2009

Together, the United States and China consume nearly half the world's energy each year — and create a similar percentage of greenhouse-gas emissions. If we are going to tackle two great social challenges of our time, energy and the environment, the two countries need to work together.

The best opportunity for progress toward a sustainable future lies in the electrification of transportation. With 250 million registered vehicles in the U.S. and with sales of vehicles in China expected to grow from 37 million to 370 million over the next 20 years, transportation is a huge consumer of oil and producer of emissions. By powering cars with renewable energy, we can significantly reduce carbon emissions and lessen our dependence on oil.

The best part about electrifying our transportation systems is that the technology already exists. Both the U.S. and China have a rich supply of renewable energy ready to be harnessed. China now boasts one of the world's leading solar panel manufacturers, and in the U.S., President Barack Obama is committed to increasing the use of green energy and is pushing for investment in renewable power.

Today's electric cars deliver uncompromising performance, zero emissions and can be as convenient, if not more so, than their gas-powered peers. Up until now there have been two major barriers preventing mass adoption of electric cars: high costs, largely due to the battery, and the limited range that comes from a lack

of infrastructure. The rechargeable batteries that power electric cars have long been used in other industries, from powering laptop computers to mobile phones. With advances in efficiency and life span, fully charged batteries can now reliably deliver driving distances of over 100 miles. Putting in place an efficient and convenient infrastructure including charge spots and battery-exchange stations that extend a driver's journey beyond the 100-mile range, we can create a seamless and reliable driving experience.

To be environmentally sound, this new transportation era must be built on clean, renewable energy and not simply shift emissions from the tailpipe of a car to the smokestack of a fossil-fueled power plant. For every electric car we bring onto the grid, we need to bring enough renewable energy to support it and break our dependence on oil.

This will take cooperation and government investment, but if we use the Silicon Valley business model for technology innovation, coupled with the right policies from Washington and Beijing, both countries can take a huge leap toward cleaning up our transportation system, creating jobs and reviving our economies.

The U.S. auto industry is facing an uncertain future, and China is struggling to build an auto manufacturing industry that meets global standards. Making the move to electrification presents a tremendous opportunity for both countries to lead the world into the next generation of transportation.

A thriving clean economy cannot be developed in a vacuum, or by a single idea. It takes vision, political will and a broad array of disciplines working together. The U.S. and China are in a position to take action — and make a difference — and we call on both governments to work together and to collaborate on reducing greenhouse gases while creating economic growth. A recent summit meeting of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum was a good first step.

We have an opportunity to speed the development of clean energy, and we can do it if we take action now.

Mike Splinter is president and chief executive of Applied Materials, and Shai Agass is founder and CEO of Better Place. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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