U.S.’s race to ‘win the future’ hinges on spurring clean-energy innovation

Around the world, many countries are moving aggressively in an effort to lead on clean energy and capture the jobs this innovation is creating. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, this is our generation’s “Sputnik moment” — a wake-up call that we cannot take our scientific and technological leadership for granted. We are in a global race to become leaders in the clean-energy technologies that will define energy economies around the world in the years and decades to come. This is a race to win the future, and by out-innovating, out-
educating and out-building our competitors, this is a race that we can win. 

The United States is home to the most creative entrepreneurs and businesses and the world’s best research institutions. When we rev up the great American innovation machine, we can out-compete any nation. By unleashing the ingenuity of the American people, we will lead in clean energy and create a new generation of American jobs and industries.

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To continue the work we’ve already done to spur energy innovation, we will build on the administration’s historic clean-energy investments in the 
Recovery Act by increasing our support for clean energy by a third. We’ll pay for these investments in innovation by ending billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.

These efforts include expanding the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which is pursuing cutting-edge research with real-world applications, and already seeing real results. The president also issued a challenge to America’s scientific community to bring together our top scientists and engineers to help solve the nation’s toughest energy problems. We will support their efforts by establishing three new Energy Innovation Hubs. These Energy Innovation Hubs are modeled in part after the United States’ efforts in World War II, when we gathered the country’s best minds to further develop and deploy as fast as possible the radar technologies that were essential to our wartime efforts.

We are also looking at new ways to capitalize on our investments and achieve major successes in fields from solar energy to electric vehicles. For example, we are launching a “SunShot” initiative with the goal to achieve cost-competitiveness between solar energy and electricity from fossil fuels by the end of the decade, without subsidies. This comprehensive effort will reduce the total cost of utility-scale solar energy by as much as 75 percent, boosting U.S. leadership in this critical and growing industry.

To drive innovation and ensure that America can compete for and win the clean-energy jobs of the future, President Obama has proposed a bold but achievable goal of generating 80 percent of America’s electricity from clean sources by 2035.

America has risen to meet tough challenges before, and we can do so again. We already get roughly 40 percent of our electricity from clean sources, and doubling to 80 percent is within reach — especially because the Clean Energy Standard involves a wide range of clean-energy sources including wind and solar, nuclear energy, improved hydropower turbines, clean coal and natural gas. This will give utilities across the country the flexibility to generate clean energy using whatever technologies make the most sense for them — flexibility that will also protect consumers in different regions of the country. By pairing the Clean Energy Standard with energy efficiency efforts, we will also help consumers save money by saving energy.

Most importantly, this Clean Energy Standard will provide a clear signal to U.S. businesses that clean-energy investments will continue to be smart investments in the long term, cutting dangerous pollution and protecting public health. It will grow the domestic market for clean sources of energy — creating jobs, driving innovation and enhancing national security. And it will build on the innovation machine that is developing across the country, with nearly a quarter million clean-energy jobs created over the last two years, creating local markets for clean-energy technologies and products that we can export around the world in the years ahead.

The Obama administration looks forward to working with both sides of the aisle over the coming weeks and months to move forward on these proposals. I believe we can find common ground to respond to today’s Sputnik moment.

Half a century ago, we saw a threat to our national security and we acted. We came together, mobilized our brightest minds and won the Space Race. We can and must do the same today. We still have the opportunity to lead the clean-energy race and capture the jobs of the 21st century. Let’s do what Americans do best — innovate and win the future.

Chu is the secretary of energy.