Democracies take the lead in partnering on energy innovation

Last week, I attended a high-level CEO dialogue at the U.S.-India Energy Partnership Summit, organized by Yale and the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)-North America. The dialogue, held in Washington, explored how businesses can accelerate the development and adoption of green technology and how U.S-India collaboration is at the forefront of efforts to promote clean energy.
 
U.S. leaders present included Yale’s president, Dr. Richard C. Levin, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan B. Poneman, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology Dr. John P. Holden, and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). Leaders from India included the president of TERI-North America, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri; the Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Her Excellency Ms. Nirupama Rao; the Indian government’s principal scientific adviser, Dr. Rajagopala Chidambaram; and the chairman and director of PTC India Ltd., Tantra Narayan Thakur.
 

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The U.S.-India partnership offers a paradigm for how advanced countries can help developing countries surmount the financial constraints standing in the way of green research and development and the production and distribution of green energy technology. The United States and India share values and interests, as Deputy Secretary of Energy Poneman noted. They also happen to be the first and third largest emitters of carbon dioxide and, therefore, have a common responsibility to serve as stewards for the planet.
 
Yale has played a key role in mobilizing intellectual capital at universities in the service of exploring alternative energy sources and cleaner and more efficient methods of extracting and using energy.
 
TERI in Delhi is, meanwhile, challenging assumptions about what kind of progress is possible in the developing world through its Lighting a Billion Lives campaign. 1.4 billion people, 400 million of whom live in India, lack access to electricity and rely on older technologies, like kerosene lamps, to cook, work and study when night falls. TERI is working to enable Indians to use lamps powered by solar energy. These lamps are safer, more reliable and more efficient. The introduction of this technology has also helped more women to become entrepreneurs by enabling them to work at solar lamp-charging stations and rent solar lamps out.
 
Academia and NGOs are, clearly, doing their part. But both the private sector and the government also have indispensable roles to play in the development of clean energy technology. The private sector has the knowledge needed to develop the most appropriate technology for addressing a given problem. It is also driven by the profit motive, which helps ensure that new technology is as efficient as possible. The government, meanwhile, must fund basic research, which the private sector chronically under-invests in, and design the policy environment with an eye toward promoting innovation.
 
It is inspiring to see the two largest democracies in the world take the lead on clean energy innovation and climate change science. Hopefully, the U.S.-India partnership can serve as the cornerstone of a coordinated, global effort to address the most important energy challenges the world faces.