Can We Wake the Sleeping Giant?

Can We Wake the Sleeping Giant?

“Asia’s rising ‘clean technology tigers’— China, Japan and South Korea — are poised to out-compete the United States for dominance of clean energy markets due to their substantially larger government investments to support clean technology research and innovation, manufacturing capacity, and domestic markets, as well as critical related infrastructure.” So begins Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant, released on November 18 by the Breakthrough Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

The study’s findings confirm what many have been writing about. And yet, despite the rather grim nature of that opening sentence above, it is important to note that this potential outcome is not pre-ordained — the clean-tech tigers are only “poised” to dominate. If the United States gets its energy and climate policy act together, we are equally poised to lead. The question is, of course, will we?

U.S. policymakers have taken some steps in this direction. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides billions of dollars for investment in clean energy industries and technologies. Earlier this year the House passed landmark energy and climate legislation and pieces of both energy and climate policy have seen committee action in the Senate. Moreover, earlier this month the “Solar Manufacturing Jobs Creation Act” — which will provide tax credits for solar manufacturing equipment — was introduced in both House and Senate and are on track to become part of a “jobs bill” expected to move soon.

The hard part is to continue this progress and to enact the longer-range policies that will truly drive large-scale deployment of solar and other renewable energies. Market-making mechanisms, such as a strong renewable electricity standard, low-cost renewable energy financing, carbon pricing, and federal procurement, are bogged down in a sticky goo of Senate procedure, partisanship and regional fault lines. The result is continued delays in the Senate, with action there now pushed off until at least next spring. Still, there is some cause for optimism — Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman appear to be making slow but incremental progress in their bipartisan efforts to construct a climate package that can garner the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the clean technology tigers — and a growing number of other countries as well — are not waiting for the United States. They are busy charting their clean energy growth strategies, attracting investment and taking other steps to move them from the “poised” position to the “dominance” one. It’s time for the giant to awaken.

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