U.S. Government Has a History Supporting Emerging Industries
Government has played an important role in supporting emerging industries critical to prosperity and security
January 18, 2012
Investment in clean energy and manufacturing will allow us to meet our energy challenges, put Americans back to work, and provide a foundation of our future prosperity.
The global clean energy market is already worth an estimated $240 billion a year, and that figure is growing rapidly. In fact, a very reasonable estimate is that solar photovoltaic systems alone represent a global market worth more than $80 billion in 2011.
Dramatic reductions in cost and improvements in technology are driving a global revolution in clean energy. In some parts of the world, wind power is now becoming competitive with traditional fossil energy without subsidies. Within a decade, there is a reasonable chance that solar energy will also be competitive in many regions of the world.
Yet as opportunity grows, so does the global competition for the jobs and industries that come with it. China, South Korea, and other countries are making major public investments in clean energy. And by any measure, they are reaping rewards. While our market share in solar manufacturing has fallen from 45 percent a few years ago to just 7 percent today, China has surged into the lead. South Korea leads the world in advanced battery manufacturing.
The good news is that the voices of defeatism are wrong: This is a race America can still win. Few countries have a combination of solar, wind, and biomass resources in such abundance. Clean energy manufacturers in the United States therefore enjoy a large potential domestic customer base as well as the growing export opportunities around the world. We also have the world's finest research institutions, entrepreneurial talent, and a track record of innovation that continues to be one of the foundations of American competitiveness.
We shouldn't accept a future in which our nation's dependence on foreign oil is followed by a dependence on foreign solar panels, wind turbines, and biofuels. Instead, our motto should be "Invented in America, Made in America, Sold Around the World."
Throughout our history, the federal government has played an important role in supporting emerging industries critical to American prosperity and security, from airplanes to agriculture to information technologies. Investments in research and development are incredibly important to our competitiveness in clean energy, but so are investments that help grow the domestic clean energy industry and let our innovators, entrepreneurs, and businesses know there is a market for their products.
The Obama administration has made the largest investment in clean energy in American history. These investments are supporting the world's largest wind farm, several of the largest solar photovoltaic generation facilities, our nation's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production, the first nuclear plants built in three decades, and groundbreaking research into promising technologies.
We need to continue to encourage investment in clean energy even as we cut spending and reduce the deficit, which will require creative solutions. For example, there may be tweaks to the tax code that would remove obstacles to greater private investment in clean energy.
Private sector investments lie at the core of innovation and our economic machinery. Appropriately designed changes in government policy can, like the rudder of a ship, be used to gently steer us in a direction that produces enormous course changes over time.