The Smart Grid is the critical infrastructure for a clean energy economy that delivers energy security, reduced carbon emissions, and opportunities for consumers to manage and even produce their own electricity.  A clean energy economy means jobs.  For example, domestically produced renewables integrated into the Smart Grid require local resources for installation and support.  And these technologies also require new software applications to monitor and manage these assets, creating blue-collar and white-collar jobs for our nation still recovering from the Great Recession.  We need fiscal policies that accelerate investment in the clean energy economy and the Smart Grid to achieve energy security and economic and technological leadership – the 21st century equivalent of the 1960s space race.

However, two events last week offer a sobering reality of the global and domestic challenges that the USA faces in intelligent fiscal policy and forward-thinking actions to make us viable contestants in the clean energy economy race.   Report results were released by the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) for a commissioned study to identify the top clean tech producers in terms of percentage of GDP.  The report examined 38 countries’ earnings data from biofuels, wind turbines, and thermal equipment, plus energy efficiency technologies in lighting and insulation derived from energy associations, the International Energy Agency and investor and financial sources. Number one was Denmark, which has extensive investments in wind power and a commitment to eliminate all fossil fuels in their economy by 2050.  Number two on the list was China, which puts 1.4 percent of its GDP or $63 billion into clean technologies.

Where was the USA?  Back at number 17, with 0.3 percent of its GDP, or $45 billion invested this past year.  “While we debate climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy, the debate is passed in China,” Donald Pols, an economist with the WWF said. “For them it’s implementation. It’s a growth sector, and they want to capture this sector.”

Contrast that to the spectacle of 5 oil industry executives speaking to the Senate Finance Committee about taxpayer generosity in the form of at least $4 billion per year in oil subsidies and tax breaks to their companies, which are enjoying record-breaking profits as we’re enduring record-breaking prices for gasoline and record-breaking federal deficits.  Did you know we’re “un-American” for even considering the elimination these tax breaks, according to ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva?  In his view, we should continue to subsidize this profitable industry that reduces our energy security, produces CO emissions as well as health-impairing air and water pollution, and deprives us of opportunities to invest that money in the energy technologies for the 21st century.

The clean energy economy is the new space race, and we’re losing.  The Chinese are thinking and acting like 1960s-era Americans who want to win the clean energy economy race through technology and infrastructure investments, and too many Americans are thinking and acting like idiots where what’s best for the profit margins of multinational oil companies is patriotism at its finest.

Event alert:  Several conferences are scheduled in the next two weeks that will explore technologies, standards, policies, and other influences such as capital access for Smart Grid deployments and the clean energy economy.  They include ConnectivityWeek, Grid ComForum, and the Smart Grid Technology Conference.  I’ll be moderating sessions that cover data management in the Smart Grid, Silicon Valley innovation, and consumer interactions with the Smart Grid.  All conferences offer perspectives with industry experts and thought leaders to stimulate ideas that translate into actions to accelerate our progress, and I encourage you to attend them.