Is the U.S. Falling Behind in the Race to Clean Tech?

by | Aug 4, 2009

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wind-turbine-strange2Increasingly, business executives are starting to worry that the U.S. is losing a prime opportunity to advance the nation’s economy by embracing the clean tech revolution. Instead, China appears poised to take a leadership role.

The U.S. faces a “competitiveness crisis” in the area of “green technology,” wrote John Doerr and Jeff Immelt, in a guest column in the Washington Post. Doerr is a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Jeff Immelt is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Electric.

Citing the $1 trillion spent annually on energy in the U.S., Doerr and Immelt opine that, as factions in the U.S. bicker over the role of clean tech and renewables, China “understands the importance of controlling its energy future.”

As a percentage of gross domestic product, China is spending ten times the amount on clean energy as is the U.S., they write:

What do Amazon, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have in common? Two things: They are the world’s five leading Internet technology companies, and they are all American. But when it comes to wind power, the most mature of the clean-energy sectors, of the top five manufacturers (Vestas, GE, Gamesa, Enercon and Suzlon) only one is American,” the column continues.

Similarly, the United States is home to only one of the 10 largest solar panel producers in the world and two of the top 10 advanced battery manufacturers. How can we catch up? Not through protectionism or massive government intervention but through the power of good old home-grown innovation.

Others are worried about the message the federal government is sending in a recent spate of communications related to clean tech.

In late July, the Department of Energy sent out form letters to many of the nearly 3,500 research teams and individuals seeking a piece of the $150 million in stimulus funds designated for “transformational” energy technologies, reports the New York Times. The letters (click here for a sample), amounted to a rejection letter, even referring to the applicant as “discouraged.”

The letter states that only about 2 percent of the applications may result in any form of funding.

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