The End of the Clean Energy Race

The 'Cooperative Advantage' in Energy Innovation


February 06, 2015 | Alex Trembath

Last year, the Breakthrough Institute and ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes released High-Energy Innovation. In the report, my colleagues and I argue that rapidly growing energy demand in emerging economies and increased multilateral investment represent the next great opportunity to accelerate energy innovation.

We contrasted this to a framework embraced over the last few years: the idea that the United States was in a race to capture the jobs and industries associated with clean energy technologies like solar panels, batteries, and advanced nuclear reactors.

What we know of technology innovation tells us that it tends to happen where demand is growing quickly. Why then would we not expect the same to be true for advanced energy technologies?

This month, I have a piece at the Christian Science Monitor arguing that the United States lost the global clean tech race – and that’s okay. Here's an excerpt from my column:

"If there was indeed a clean energy race to be won, America was destined to lose it. The idea that wealthy economies like ours would develop clean energy technologies on our own and then make a fortune selling them to developing economies turns out to have had it exactly wrong. 

Transitions to new energy technologies have almost always occurred in lock-step with major increases in energy consumption. The transition from wood to coal for heating, cooking, and mechanical power occurred as energy use soared during the Industrial Revolution. New demand for road and air transport drove the transition to oil as the world’s primary transportation fuel in the early decades of the 20th century. And robust growth in electricity consumption made it possible for the United States to shift twenty percent of its national electricity generation to nuclear power in the decades after World War II."

Read the whole piece here