If the United States fails to act now to harness its resources and ingenuity in cleanenergy
production, we risk falling far behind in the twenty-first century global economy.
Other nations will seize the opportunity to capitalize on this rapidly growing sector.
Businesses will be drawn away from the United States as startups, entrepreneurs, and
innovators find more hospitable operating environments overseas. Unemployment in
our country will steadily increase, while jobs are created in distant lands. And our
dependence on foreign oil will continue, along with the conflict this dependence breeds.
China now leads the world with $34.6 billion in clean energy investments, nearly double
that of United States' investments.
Denmark is the world's leader in wind power, power that generates more than 19 percent of its country's electricity. And based on its current momentum, Germany is set to become the world's first industrial country to use 100 percent renewable energy—a goal the country might reach as soon as 2050.
In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Barack Obama said, "We
need to encourage American innovation...(and) no area is more ripe for such innovation
than energy." If we are to rise to the president's challenge, we must embrace the
dynamism of our economy to emerge as a global leader in advancing energy innovation
toward products and services in the commercial market. The economic impact of
catalyzing the energy sector cannot be ignored: Experts predict 60 percent of the
world's energy will come from renewable resources by 2070.
In many ways, energy
technologies will define the twenty-first century. These technologies also will be a critical
turning point in the history of the United States.
In Washington, most plans to "jump-start" the economy emphasize the need to increase
job growth in existing companies. However, data suggest that new jobs are not created
by older, larger firms, but, rather, by newer, smaller companies. According to Business
Dynamics Statistics (a U.S. government dataset compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau),
existing firms destroyed 1 million jobs per year on average between 1977 and 2005,
while new companies created 3 million jobs per year. Moreover, during recession years,
jobs created by new companies remained significantly more stable economically than
jobs created by established firms.
Although the United States' investment in basic energy research was at its highest this
year, there is a notable lack of attention toward implementing policy that could boost the
private energy market. Energy innovations as a whole do not receive adequate attention
from investors, businesses, and states because of interconnection issues with utilities,
limited financing options, and a cumbersome U.S. regulatory environment.
Also limiting progress in the energy sector is an unfortunate disconnect between its key
players. In the United States, universities and research laboratories are our major
centers of research and knowledge generation. But, despite our strength in producing
new ideas, the current system is insufficient to identify those innovations with potential
for commercialization and even more insufficient to get those technologies past financial
or regulatory barriers. As a result, the new technologies developed by these centers
often fail to realize their full commercial impact. Acceleration of the energy sector
requires reform at all stages along the innovation pipeline—from research to
development, deployment to adoption.
Reaching our nation's goals in the clean energy sector will rely heavily on the staying
power of U.S. small businesses. As small businesses currently employ nearly 40
percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce, they create fourteen times more
patents per employee than large firms do. Moreover, between 1993 and 2008, small
businesses created 64 percent of all net new jobs.
Given the challenges our country faces, the ability to work together in creating ways to
increase and sustain clean energy innovation is crucial if we are to move forward in this
area. The scaling of energy firms in the United States is not a technological issue, but
is very much an issue of policy. We need to prioritize new ways for state and federal
government policy leaders to partner with private organizations, forge effective
relationships with organizations across sectors, and build upon the existing networks of
innovators and entrepreneurs. Only through collaboration will we be able to create and
implement the policies and actions that will expedite progress toward our goal of
securing our nation's future.