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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Creating a Clean Energy Century

Originally published at the Breakthrough Institute

America can recapture the lead in the global clean energy race if it commits itself to a major public-private effort to spur clean energy innovation.

That's the message of a new report released today by Democratic think tank Third Way. The report, "Creating a Clean Energy Century," is the first in a series of reports from Third Way's new project on energy innovation, co-chaired by U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The report begins with clear-cut premises. Clean energy is still too expensive and unreliable relative to fossil fuels. Other countries are moving toward clean energy more quickly than the United States. Countries that are able to make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels will gain the greatest economic benefits, by capturing more of the rapidly growing domestic and global markets for clean energy.

That the United States is falling far behind other countries in developing and producing clean energy technologies should be familiar to readers of this blog. That was the conclusion of our major 2009 report, "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," co-authored with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. We argued that for the United States to catch up, the government needed to prioritize major public investments in clean energy R&D, manufacturing, and deployment, along with education, infrastructure and facilitating the development of new clean energy clusters.

The Third Way report contains similar recommendations, including creating early markets for innovative clean energy technologies, providing incentives and investments to spur domestic clean energy manufacturing, educating a new generation of scientists and engineers, and investing $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D. They also recommend that the government create a new National Institutes of Energy (an idea developed with Breakthrough one year ago) with a singular mission of developing affordable commercial clean energy technologies.

The three Senators chairing the project took to the pages of Politico today to describe why investment in clean energy innovation cannot wait:

As we work to cut our deficit and promote fiscal responsibility, investment in research and development still remains a key function of the federal government. When the economy recovers and support for innovation expands, we will be able to build on our initial successes.

But we have to start today to have any hope of catching up to China, Germany and other clean energy powerhouses. Despite Washington's recent political shifts, maintaining our global economic edge should remain a bipartisan priority.

"Energy innovation is not a partisan issue - it's an American imperative," they continue, "The choice is clear: We will either be stamping 'Made in the USA' on wind turbines, solar panels, advanced batteries and nuclear components. Or unloading them from foreign container ships."

The Third Way report and article by Senators Udall, Kagan, and Stabenow add a set of important voices to the gathering consensus for a technology and innovation-led strategy for clean energy progress and economic renewal, which includes scholars at Breakthrough, Brookings, and the American Enterprise Institute, along with top business leaders like Bill Gates and Norman Augustine.

A 'Technology-First' consensus for energy reform is clearly growing on left and right. For more, don't miss "Energy Innovation 2010," a major day-long conference on December 15th, hosted by the Breakthrough Institute and six other leading think tanks from diverse points on the political spectrum. The event is free but registration is required. For more information and to register today, head here.

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