Clean Energy COMPETES: Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness through the America COMPETES Reauthorization

Originally at the New Republic

Having passed the U.S. House of Representatives on May 28th, the America COMPETES Act, America's flagship competitiveness legislation, will soon be debated in the U.S. Senate. The Act was originally passed in 2007 in response to mounting concern that the United States was failing to effectively compete economically with other nations, imperiling the nation's future prosperity.

Now, a new outbreak of anxiety has engulfed the nation's competitive standing particularly as regards the nation's fledgling clean energy industry. Presently, the United States lacks an effective strategy to compete in this high-growth industry, which is expected to surpass $600 billion globally by 2020. Fortunately, the America COMPETES reauthorization offers a key opportunity for Congress to strengthen U.S. clean energy competitiveness.

At this critical moment, three think tanks--the Breakthrough Institute, Brookings Metro Program and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation(ITIF)--have released a new policy report calling on Congress to extend the America COMPETES Act and enact a comprehensive set of investments in clean energy technology and embrace bold new paradigms in education, research, production and manufacturing.

There are many challenges to the development of a robust clean energy technology industry in United States, particularly as other nations move aggressively to compete for global clean energy markets and surge ahead of the U.S. on key metrics.

Currently, the U.S. suffers a competitive education gap, graduating fewer scientists and engineers than its economic competitors each year. The United States' historic lead in energy innovation is slipping as other nations implement national innovation strategies and U.S. firms increasingly move state-of-the-art energy research operations overseas. And according to a November report by the Breakthrough Institute and ITIF, "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," the United States now lags nations in Asia in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies. It's little surprise, then, that the U.S. trade deficit for renewable energy goods has increased by 1,400 percent over the last five years.

The new policy report, "Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness: Opportunities for America COMPETES Reauthorization," recommends that Congress enact several measures to keep the U.S. competitive in the face of aggressive challenges from abroad. These measures include:

  • Investing in a new generation of clean scientists and engineers
  • Investing in increasing funding for clean energy R&D at existing agencies and in new innovative programs like Energy Frontier Research Centers, DOE Innovation Hubs, and ARPA-E
  • Supporting American clean energy manufacturers with a new industrial innovation institute, new clean energy supply chain initiatives, and low-cost financing to help US manufacturers retool for the clean economy
  • Spurring the development of clean energy industry clusters by funding new regional cluster initiatives and clean energy research consortia.

By re-thinking how the federal government can foster innovation and competitiveness in clean energy, from education and research to commercialization and production, the United States can once again become a global leader in clean energy technology. Let's make the reauthorization of America's signature innovation law a moment of policy innovation in support of clean energy competitiveness.

Jesse Jenkins is Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute.

Mark Muro is Fellow and Policy Director at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

Rob Atkinson is founder and President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.