10/27/2011 12:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

U.S. Behind, But the Clean Energy Race Is Not Over

Last spring, Pew broke the unfortunate news that the United States' competitive position in the clean energy sector was at risk. Once the leader in attracting overall investments, we're now third behind China and Germany -- and lag behind various countries on a variety of other key measures. A major reason is that our clean energy policies are not as clear, consistent, or ambitious as those of other nations. Our research shows that where such policy exists, investment follows.

The United States has a number of clean energy strengths on which to rebuild our economic leadership. We remain the world's leader in clean energy innovation and venture capital investments -- the money that jumpstarts new technologies. U.S. companies make a number of the component parts in the renewable sector. In fact, U.S. solar firms achieved a positive $1.9 billion trade flow in 2010, and exports of wind power products have risen every year since 2007. At a time when few sectors of the economy are thriving, renewables are the fastest growing source of world energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

With the global clean energy market expected to reach $2.3 trillion by 2020, a strong competitive position is vital for the United States to capture a significant portion of that revenue. Emerging economies are eager for clean energy sector products. Without a change in national policy, the United States risks missing out on a major new economic opportunity.

Nothing would do more to strengthen the U.S. competitive position than policy that encourages American businesses to invest domestically in renewable energy. To begin, establishment of a national clean energy production goal would signal to investors and business leaders that there will be sustained demand. It would also spur the development of a robust supply chain, helping lower prices at home and making our products and manufacturers more globally competitive.

We also need to create long-term and fair financial incentives for clean energy. At the moment, the United States has only a series of short-term tax credits for the production of wind turbines and solar panels. For example, the production tax-credit is nearing expiration, and uncertainty surrounding its renewal leaves the domestic clean energy community in a state of flux -- leaving capital on the sidelines and forestalling job creation.

Finally, we need to encourage public and private investment in clean energy research and development (R&D) in order to maintain our innovation edge. A sustained commitment to R&D will enhance our competitive position in batteries and energy storage and position us to take advantage of next-generation technologies, as well.

The United States has a number of assets with which to compete in the global clean energy economy. Strong national policy will help us leverage these advantages and capitalize on this enormous economic opportunity.

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