There’s no excuse for losing this one…

October 24th, 2011



This piece was originally posted on The National Journal.

“Is America losing the clean energy race?” The simple and sad answer is…yes.

The wealthiest, most innovative and capable nation in modern history risks getting beaten to a pulp in the competition for the $2.3 trillion global clean energy market. What’s worse is that it’s our own fault if we lose.

We know what to do to compete. We need to make it easier for emerging companies to have access to capital through an independent Clean Energy bank and reforms in the tax code that free up private capital. We need to fund innovation so that new technologies are invented and built in the United States. We need to create domestic markets for clean energy technologies by driving demand with a national clean energy standard, a feed-in tariff or price on carbon. Republican and Democratic governors, and the governments of China, India and the European Union have put similar policies in place with great success.

We know there’s huge global demand for clean energy. Global investment in the clean energy sector soared 59% in 2010, to $211 billion, and is expected to continue its rapid growth pattern in 2011 and beyond. China’s investment in clean energy has enabled it to manufacture half of the world’s solar panels and wind turbines and create 100,000 new clean energy jobs every year.

The United States desperately needs the long-term economic opportunity that clean energy presents. The Chinese government was disappointed with 9.1% economic growth in the 3rd quarter 2011. The United States sputtered along at 0.9%. Where are the businesses to drive growth? Overall manufacturing in the U.S. was down 4.4% at the end of the 3rd quarter 2011. But the American solar industry? Up 66% from the 1st quarter 2010 to the 1st quarter 2011. The newly energy-conscious American automotive industry? Up 11% over last year. It’s clear that there is profit in clean technologies—we are just not taking advantage of it.

If we know what to do, know there’s a huge clean energy market and need the economic growth, what’s the problem? It is certainly not because, as Rep. Cliff Stearns claims, “We cannot compete with China.” Let’s be very clear: the United States can out-compete any country in any technology we set our minds to.

We are losing the clean energy race today because some conservatives on Capitol Hill like Rep. Stearns would rather score political points by attacking an emerging sector of our economy than help it blossom and drive growth. The policies we need are no different than the policies that have driven technological innovation since the turn of the 20th century. These public-private partnerships helped the rise of the American oil industry, automobiles, civilian aviation, nuclear energy, the Internet and biotechnology.

There were always risks and always some failures in the American model of public-private partnership for innovation. In the past, such failures were accepted as part of the innovation process that drove our nation’s long-term growth—and it was understood that the losses from these failures were far outweighed by the economic benefits from the more successful initiatives. Today, political opportunists seize upon such failures to gain an electoral advantage, no matter how much it could hurt the economy. For the sake of the United States’ economic future and our hopes of capturing a meaningful share of the $2.3 trillion global clean energy sector, this has to stop.