Wednesday, January 26, 2011

President Obama Mentioning the Applied Materials Xi'an Solar Research Facility

Last night in his State of the Union speech, President Obama talked about how India and China have realized that can compete in new technology by educating their children younger and earlier, with greater emphasis on math and science, and investing in research. As proof of their progress, he said, "Just recently, China became the home of the world's largest private solar research facility."

I'm glad he mentioned the Applied Materials 400,000 square feet Xi'an R&D center. As he noted, it is the largest non-government solar energy research facility in the world. President Obama, however, used it to show how China is beating the US in clean tech research investment rather than holding the facility up as an example of how a US company can benefit from strong Chinese support for its solar industry. The Chinese central government, Shaanxi provincial government, and Xi'an municipality have all worked well with Applied Materials and this partnership could carry over into new solar and LED projects in the province.

Before the solar research facility was opened in October 2009, Applied Materials had set up an Innovation Fund to support local research and development capabilities and scholarships for outstanding students in Xi'an. Applied Materials's China operation shows how the US-China renewable energy relationship is not a new post-Sputnik race to the moon.

It's a shame the president missed the opportunity. He could have said that the world's largest private solar research facility in Xi'an is being built by an American company through a partnership with the Chinese side that serves as a model for further cooperation. He could have mentioned that Suntech has a manufacturing facility in Arizona and ENN, Duke are exploring sites in southern Nevada for a utility-level solar plant.

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