October 13, 2008
U.S. Business Leaders Urge America to Get Serious about the Clean Energy Race
By Leigh Ewbank, Breakthrough Fellow.
In yesterday's Washington Post,
prominent U.S. business leaders John Doerr (from Kleiner Perkins) and
Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE) joined the growing chorus calling on
the nation's leaders to prepare America for the clean-energy race. They
warn that the U.S. is quickly falling behind in "the next great global
industry" -- green technology -- with the risk of damaging America's economic
Doerr and Immelt's observations mirror recent reporting by the Breakthrough Institute and several major news sources -- including Time, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal -- that
show the U.S. trailing Asia in terms of clean-energy investment and
deployment. On the question of which nation is leading the U.S. in the
clean-energy race, Doerr and Immelt don't mince their words:
"We are clearly not in the lead today. That position is
held by China, which understands the importance of controlling its
energy future. China's commitment to developing clean energy
technologies and markets is breathtaking.
Consider: Chinese cars are more than one-third more
fuel-efficient than U.S. cars. China is investing 10 times as much on
clean power, as a percentage of gross domestic product, as the United
States is. China is on track to create 150,000 jobs through the
deployment of 120 gigawatts of wind power by 2020 -- an amount
equivalent to today's global total and nearly five times America's."
China is not alone with its clean energy ambitions. As Breakthrough has noted previously and highlighted last week in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, South Korea
will invest $85 billion over five years--2% of its GDP per year--in
environmental technologies that include clean energy, hybrid electric
vehicles, and energy efficient products. Japan will join these nations through setting a large solar deployment targets with the objective of becoming "the number one solar power in the world."
China, South Korea and Japan's drive to become the main players in
clean-tech markets along with the inaction of US policy makers has
serious implications for U.S. competitiveness. For Doerr and Immelt,
"There is no topic of greater importance to America's economic future."
However, they argue that "our government's energy and climate policies
are our principal obstacle to success. Today's policies stifle American
innovation and competitiveness."
The gathering clean energy race demands a bold national strategy for
clean energy development to compete effectively with nations like
China. Doerr and Immelt present several policy recommendations,
including major federal investments similar to Breakthrough Institute's
"Get serious about funding research, development and
deployment, at scale. The federal government currently spends only $2.5
billion on clean-energy R&D a year -- 0.25 percent of our annual
energy bill. Sen. Jeff Bingaman's Clean Energy Deployment
Administration is a good idea that would be fast and flexible. But more
such programs are needed."
Doerr and Immelt's recommendation is consistent with our calls for a
national clean energy strategy with major investments in clean energy
research, development, demonstration and deployment -- though we would
argue that these measures should be our highest priority if we aim to
win the clean energy race (Doeer and Immelt list it as their fourth
recommendation). Such investments should be coupled with measures to promote America's clean-tech workforce through education initiatives, including President Obama's RE-ENERGYSE program recently rejected
by Congress. The combination of skills development and public
investment can drive the innovation and entrepreneurship needed to
catapult the US to a leadership position.
While the current trends suggest that Asia could dominate the
burgeoning clean energy industries of the 21st century, there is still
hope. As more and more notable figures like Doerr and Immelt join those
already highlighting the significance of clean-energy race for our
economic competitiveness, the Congress will eventually be compelled to
act. For the sake of our climate and our economy, let it be sooner
rather than later -- as Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins concluded in their
SF Chronicle op-ed:
"If America does not take immediate action to bridge its
energy education gap -- and if we fail to make substantially larger
investments in our own clean-energy economy -- we will effectively cede
the clean-energy race to Asia. A decade from now, we may still find the
burgeoning clean-energy economy promised by Obama and Democratic
leaders. It will simply be headquartered in China."
Over the last few months, the Breakthrough Institute has been chronicling the clean energy race. You can find the archives here.