Clean Energy: Why Is China Ahead of the U.S.?


Chuck Provini, a former Marine with no fewer than 19 military decorations, considers himself a "good American and a patriot."

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, served as a Marine Corps captain in the Vietnam War and has lived his whole life in the United States. But now that he's the president of a growing solar technology start-up, he's finding himself in a difficult position: He must leave the United States behind.

His company, Natcore Technology, based in Red Bank, N.J., holds the license to technology that makes solar panels cheaper, more efficient and less toxic to the environment. He said he tried to commercialize the technology domestically, but while bureaucracy and red tape stalled talks with state and federal officials, conversations with Chinese officials sped ahead.

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"The Chinese have a major, aggressive movement to increase the technology in the photovoltaic area," he said. "They picked up the phone and called us and said, 'What do you do?'"

At the time of this story's publication, he's in Zhuzhou city in China's Hunan province, on the verge of signing a deal that will commercialize the technology overseas, giving the Chinese economy a boost and Chinese workers more jobs.

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"We wanted to do business in the United States and we went to different agencies and we said, 'Here's what we have going on in China. Can you help us replicate this?'" he said. "And, frankly, we kind of rang on deaf ears."

In his address from the Oval Office Tuesday night, President Obama used the backdrop of the massive BP oil spill to push a clean energy agenda.

"The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America," he said.

But what is China doing that the United States isn't? And what do we need to do to keep up?

Provini, whose company licenses technology developed at Houston's Rice University, said that for about a year, he went back and forth with representatives at the Ohio Department of Development. He said he also worked with a major Washington, D.C., law firm and was told that a $750,000 application fee was necessary just to apply for a specific federal program.

Solar Energy Company: We Didn't Call China, They Called Us

When he tried to work with elected officials for guidance on how to grow his business, he said he rarely got past staff members.

Lisa Patt-McDaniel, director of the Ohio Department of Development, said she couldn't comment directly on Natcore, but said that her office supports hundreds of new technology ventures each year.

Provini said, "The Chinese were just so aggressive. We didn't contact them, they contacted us."

Officials responsible for developing China's clean and alternative energy program in the Hunan province learned about Natcore through a mutual contact at the University of Wales and placed a call, he said.

Then they flew Provini to China and helped him find a production partner that will provide capital and manufacturing capabilities. In the next three to six months, he said, they could move into the manufacturing phase, which could create 250-400 jobs.

"They've cut through the red tape to be responsive," he said. "It's almost embarrassing that whatever you ask for, they deliver it."

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