Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness: Opportunities for America Competes Reauthorization

Robert Atkinson
Darrene Hackler
Jesse Jenkins
Devon Swezey
Mark Muro, Brookings Institution

Report sponsored by the Breakthrough Institute; The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation; and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program


Accelerating U.S. clean energy innovation, manufacturing, and commercialization is an environmental necessity. Without new innovations and a robust clean energy technology policy, the United States will not be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to needed levels, unless the price of GHGs rises to politically unsustainable levels. As important as these environmental objectives are, clean energy innovation is also an economic imperative. Investments in the global clean energy industry are expected to grow 25 percent to $200 billion in 2010 and are predicted to reach $600 billion by 2020. Government policy and public investment will be critical determinants of which countries become leaders in the race to attract that clean energy technology investment and the economic and job creation benefits these investments will bring.

Unfortunately, the United States is lagging behind in this race, in part because it lacks an effective strategy to compete. Even if proposed carbon trading legislation becomes law, the resulting price on carbon will be too low and accompanying efficiency and renewable energy regulations will not be sufficient on their own to ensure that the United States catches up to countries like China in building the clean energy industries of the future. To regain leadership in the global clean energy industry, the United States must prioritize major public investments in clean energy technology and embrace bold new paradigms in clean energy innovation, education, production, and manufacturing.

To this end, the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act offers a critical opportunity to both strengthen and update U.S. clean energy innovation and competitiveness policies. Meeting this challenge, however, will require more than just an increase in funding for existing programs, as critical as these investments are. It will also require re-thinking how the federal government can foster innovation in the clean energy industry, from basic research to full scale commercialization.