The Race for Clean-energy Innovation

On a recent congressional delegation to Hong Kong, I toured a factory that is developing a thin solar cell that can be put on windows to generate electricity from the sun with zero carbon emissions. I thought of 1366 Technologies, a company in Lexington that is also racing to get advanced solar technologies to market.

It may seem like your typical competition between two companies, but this race is about much more than the solar market. It is about the race for trillions of dollars in clean-energy investments. As President Obama says, “the nation that leads in 21st-century clean energy is the nation that will lead the 21st-century global economy.”

And if we win the race, it could bring 150,000 new jobs and billions of dollars to Massachusetts.

American companies would get an edge with passage of the Waxman-Markey bill, the most sweeping energy legislation Congress has considered in a generation. The plan would end America’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil; increase the amount of clean energy we produce; make our buildings, homes, cars, and trucks more efficient; and cut the harmful carbon pollution causing global warming.

The bill requires that 20% of our electricity in 2020 come from clean-energy sources like solar or wind, or from energy efficiency. It establishes ‘clean-energy innovation hubs’ around the country to help researchers and inventors move their ideas from the lab to the market.

It also aims to reduce carbon emissions from major U.S. sources 83% by 2050 compared with 2005 levels, and saves consumers money at the pump by investing $20 billion to retool America’s auto manufacturers to produce electric cars that don’t use any gasoline.

The Waxman-Markey bill would invest more than $190 billion in clean-energy technologies that will go to the companies, research institutions, and entrepreneurs smart enough, agile enough, and innovative enough to devise the next great clean-energy technology.

Many of these cutting-edge companies will be in Massachusetts.

The state has always led the way in innovation, but, like the rest of America, our technological dominance is threatened. Germany has emerged as the global photovoltaic market, even though Massachusetts has 30% better solar resources. Korea and Japan are leapfrogging America in battery and electric-vehicle technology, even though we pioneered invention of these technologies.

Today, only one-fourth of the world’s top renewable-energy companies are American-owned, because we have failed to put in place a set of policies to promote alternative energy sources. China is spending $12.6 million per hour on clean-energy development and is preparing to invest $440 billion to $660 billion this year in clean-energy development.

As I traveled around China, I saw countless examples of how Chinese investments in clean energy are bearing fruit, from the solar company in Hong Kong to electric-car factories in Tianjin. And I came back thinking that these jobs belong in Massachusetts.

There are signs of a clean-energy economic recovery sprouting over our region. There is American Superconductor in Devens, a company pioneering wind-turbine designs and working on new power-cable systems to connect sources of renewable energy to the rest of the country. Marlborough’s Evergreen Solar is on track to be manufacturing 160 megawatts of solar panels annually, and recently opened a larger factory. These are only two local examples of the next generation of American entrepreneurs who stand poised to capitalize on the clean-energy revolution.

The American economy and the American dream have succeeded because we refuse to be shackled to old technologies and business as usual, but instead always look for the newest idea or opportunity.

In Massachusetts, we have the brain power. We have the potential. What we need are the right policies to unleash this revolution. And with the Waxman-Markey bill, the next great revolution will come to New England, as we shape a new-energy destiny for the nation.

U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Malden) is chairman of twin climate and energy panels in the House.

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