Staying Competitive in the Clean Energy Race


All too many issues these days seem to be framed solely in a narrow partisan lens, where one person's gain is inevitably another's loss. The debate over the future of U.S. energy policy has been much the same.

Even as oil continues to threaten beaches across the Gulf of Mexico, an array of Washington special interests are working to keep Congress from considering legislation that could lessen our dependency on fossil fuels and combat global warming. Indeed, while congressional leaders dither, we risk missing a key window to create badly needed new jobs and support emerging U.S. industries in the rapidly growing global market for clean energy.

Our nation achieved a position of global leadership, in part, through thoughtful public policies that encouraged public and private-sector leaders of the day to invest in future opportunities. But many experts recently have questioned if America has the right set of policies in place to stay competitive in the global clean energy race.

To see how the United States was faring in this area, The Pew Charitable Trusts - in partnership with Bloomberg New Energy Finance - examined how the world's most prosperous nations are facilitating development in the rapidly expanding clean energy economy. And now, on the eve of President Obama's June 26-27 trip to Toronto for the G-20 meeting, it's sobering to note that Americans have good reason to be concerned about our competitive position in this emerging marketplace.

Accounting for more than 90 percent of worldwide finance and investment, G-20 countries dominate the clean energy landscape. Yet, for the first time ever, the United States fell behind China in overall clean energy finance and investment in 2009 - with a total U.S. clean energy investment of just under $17 billion, compared to over $30.8 billion by China.

Moreover, relative to the size of its economy, the report also found that clean energy finance and investments in the United States lag behind several of our G-20 partners. For instance, in relative terms, Spain invested five times more than we did last year. And although overall clean energy finance and investment in the United States has nearly doubled during the past five years, its growth still falls behind six other G-20 countries.

China uses large quantities of coal and oil, just like the United States, but it's designing national policies to encourage alternative energy investments and use. For instance, China is projected to spend $46.8 billion - two-thirds of it by the end of 2011 - on energy efficiency, clean vehicles, grid infrastructure and other clean energy technology.

Indeed, a comparative analysis of G-20 nations shows that national policies can deeply influence clean energy finance and investment. Our research found that nations like China and Germany - that have adopted national renewable energy standards, carbon reduction targets and financial incentives for investment and production-tend to be leaders in the clean energy economy. Those with weaker policy frameworks, including the United States, lag behind.

As President Obama seeks ways to facilitate global economic growth at Toronto's G-20 summit he also should also reflect on how to further stimulate the growth of our own clean energy economy at home. This includes finding a way to bring together leaders in Congress to develop a comprehensive climate and energy policy.

Safe and reliable clean energy can be harnessed to create new jobs, lessen our dependence on foreign energy sources and reduce global warming pollution. That is, if leaders in Washington can look past current partisan differences and work together to create an economic environment for tomorrow, in which our nation's can-do spirit can again thrive.