Winning the Clean Energy Race

Americans pride themselves on being global leaders in innovation. So why is the nation lagging behind other nations on renewable energy?

A recent New York Times debate collected opinions on why the U.S. seems to be losing the clean energy race. Six experts weighed in on what the government should be doing differently to reposition the U.S. as a leading innovator in this emerging field:

Lisa Margonelli: How the U.S. Can Be Effective
“Rather than financing big energy producers and concepts, the government should make many smaller loans to the consumers of these products to stimulate a market, while reducing our energy dependence..”

Christoph H. Stefes: The German Solution: Feed-In Tariffs
“In the U.S., a strong federal agency that could serve as a focal point for renewables has yet to emerge. The ultimate goal of such a coalition is clear: the introduction of a federal feed-in tariff model, following the German example.”

Peter van Doren: The Evidence is Mixed
“Conventional wisdom presumes that a proper accounting of the negative environmental effects in the pricing of fossil fuels would result in renewable fuels being cheaper. The Chinese and German governments understand this; the United States government does not.”

Alexis Madrigal: It’s Not Just About Creating Jobs
“President Obama sold his energy policy as a jobs plan. That was a bad idea…”Obama should have said: We support clean energy because we value the America we’ve built, and we’re going to fight to save and improve it through this country’s innovations.”

Steven F. Hayward: Know Your Product
“We should admit that we’re still far away from knowing what forms of advanced energy will prove practical and scalable, and stop throwing taxpayer money after today’s uncompetitive technologies.”

Nalin Kulatilaka: A Smart Grid Is Crucial
“Rather than singling out specific companies or industries, our clean energy efforts should focus on building a smarter electricity system, one in which consumers and producers base their decisions on timely information that reflect true costs.”

Where does Rocky Mountain Institute Stand?

America is indeed at risk of losing the clean energy race, and there are trillions of dollars at stake. Our aging infrastructure demands refurbishment and we can either choose to invest in the status quo or the future. We need to make choices that stabilize energy prices and supplies, enhance security, manage risk, and create the new core industries of the 21st century. America invented most of the key technologies, but we’ll buy them from China if we don’t stop arguing and start leading.

Washington can either help or hurt and we don’t need it to get started. The center of gravity to reposition the U.S. as a world leader rests with business.

“U.S. business models were formed under the assumption of cheap, endless fossil fuels and expensive, limited computing and communication,” said RMI CEO Michael Potts. “These variables have flipped, so we must now redesign the way we power our economy.”

Efficient energy use and clean energy production are the foundation of a market-based, cost-effective pathway for American businesses to out-innovate competitors, ensure we grow our economy, increase exports, and create jobs.

“Although pockets of innovation are occurring, we need to see—at scale—smart and clean cars, buildings, factories and electricity generation emerging from better business models that capture the benefits of efficient use and renewable generation,” Potts said. “Strategy and design must lead, so that policy can follow.”

Learn more about how the U.S. can win the clean energy race at, launching October 27th.