In yesterday’s Washington Post, prominent U.S. business leaders John Doerr (from Kleiner Perkins) and Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE) became part of 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 competitiveness.
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 US 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 proposals:
“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 Breakthrough’s calls for a national clean energy strategy with major investments in clean energy research, development, demonstration and deployment — though the Institute argues that these measures should be the highest priority if America aims to win the clean energy race (Doeer and Immelt list it as their fourth recommendation). Such investments can be coupled with measures to nurture America’s clean-tech know-how through education initiatives, such as President Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE initiative that was 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.”