The Brookings Institution (BI) today released a report finding that not only is energy innovation hugely important to America’s (and the globe’s) future it represents a $1.4 trillion global business opportunity that the Trump Administration seems ready to throw away (my assessment, not necessarily BI’s but I doubt they would disagree). Low-carbon technology “holds great potential to spark high-quality growth in U.S. regions, support the manufacturing sector, and improve the trade balance,” BI notes. But the key question BI notes is the following:
“Congress especially, but also the private sector and states and regions, stand at a critical juncture this spring. With the economic potential for workers and regions of cleantech innovation widely acknowledged, the question has become: will the U.S. compete?”
This is especially critical as the Trump Administration prepares to gut key R&D programs within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) to both save a few bucks and as a client mine said, “relive a past that is just over and done.”
BI assessed the status of U.S. cleantech innovation, which includes energy and transport, looking at technology patenting activity as a key indicator for monitoring the development of new technologies, as represented by the volume and topics of new patents resulting from public and private funded research. What do these data show? BI notes:
“Even as cleantech patenting has grown over the years, serious concerns remain about the competitiveness of the U.S. cleantech innovation scene. At the same time, while much of America’s patenting takes place in relatively few large metropolitan areas, significant cleantech innovation activity extends into all regions of the country. That breadth underscores both the relevance and potential of low carbon innovation.”
According to BI, the findings provide a mixed picture of U.S. cleantech innovation that includes:
BI notes that given the size of the global clean energy economic opportunity, the U.S. can’t afford to give up its lead on innovation in the growing cleantech market, particularly to China.
“For that reason, Congress should set aside the skinny budget and draw on years of bipartisan support for energy innovation to coalesce around a core list of minimum viable supports for low-carbon innovation and growth. Most crucial will be provisions to maintain clean energy R&D appropriations at viable levels; maximize the impact of the nation’s 17 national energy laboratories; and preserve the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) while maintaining and scaling up the nation’s energy innovation hubs and institutes. For their part, states and regions can and must step up to invest more robustly on their own in low-carbon innovation, just as must the private sector, which must argue more forcefully for essential federal supports even as it moves to shoulder more of the burden itself.”
Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.