2010-12-08 (China Military News cited from Reuters and written by Adam Aston) – Earlier this week, the latest surprise came from energy secretary Steven Chu, who’s been talking up China’s green progress in an effort to boost Washington’s resolve on clean tech policy.
In a talk at the National Press Club, with characteristic forceful clarity (PDF of slides), Chu illuminated the growing list of sectors where China’s emerging leadership threatens U.S. players, and added leadership in supercomputing as the most recent Sino-superlative. China’s success in these technologies represents a “Sputnik Moment” for the United States, Chu said.
“When it comes to innovation, Americans don’t take a back seat to anyone — and we certainly won’t start now,” said Secretary Chu at the event. “From wind power to nuclear reactors to high-speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead. Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it’s time for America to do what we do best: innovate.”
China’s ascent to the top of the list for supercomputing speed reveals a new front in this race. Last month China’s Tianhe-1A, developed by Chinese defense researchers, became the world’s fastest supercomputer, with a performance level of 2.57 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second, for all the geeks in our audience, based on a standard test), substantially eclipsing the U.S. DOE’s Cray XT5 “Jaguar” system at Oak Ridge national labs in Tennessee, which runs at 1.75 petaflop/s. Third place is also held by a Chinese computer.
Supercomputers may seem long way from grid-competitive solar panels, long-range electric car batteries, or other cleantech gizmos, but advanced computational simulation is the keystone of most leading-edge scientific research, including nuclear energy, nanotech and materials science, proteomics and other advanced biotech applications. Basically, any very advanced science these days needs big computing horsepower. Leadership on the fastest-computer league tables has been traded off many times, between U.S., Japanese and European computing centers. China is a relative newcomer to the race, but is clearly the new elite.
Chu highlighted several crucial technologies — mostly in the areas of power generation and transportation — where China is already outpacing U.S. efforts, adding the U.S. must innovate or risk falling far behind. The following is from the DOE: