In my Technology Innovation Policy class, taught by MIT professor William Bonvillian, we were discussing the question of “how can the United States become the head of the new energy innovation wave?” There is lots of talk about if we do more investment in R&D, pass cap and trade legislation, improve efficiency standards, and all those good things- the United States will be able to take the global lead as the head of the new energy innovation wave. Being the head of an innovation wave is a very good thing; you make huge economic and political gains over everyone else. Through the IT and biotech revolutions, the United States economy grew significantly and surpassed nearly all the predictions economists had for us. Remember back in the 80s when everyone thought the Japanese economy would soon be bigger than ours because of its high and steady growth rate? Yeah, innovation waves solved that.
Through consistently being the leader of technological innovation waves, the United States dominated the last century and became the world's largest economy. Innovation waves are great things, we have easy international travel because of them, we have breathable air in LA (sorta) because of them, and we have vaccines because of them. Technology innovation waves create jobs which is a huge selling point for pushing for a Green Economy. These waves make jobs, grow the economy and solve massive problems because they add functionality- we can new things because of them. The leader of the wave benefits the most from this new functionality because there is a time where they are the only ones in the world who have that functionality. Imagine being the only one in your neighborhood who had internet access- you would have a huge economic advantage over all of them and be able to charge them for using your internet access.
So being the head of a new technology innovation wave is great because being the first one with new functionality is great. But what if a new innovation wave does not bring about greater functionality, is it still good to head it up then? Is there really a strategic economic advantage to be had for the United States to be the leaders of the renewable energy generation innovation wave?
As I view Climate Change as an existential threat to humanity, I think all nations have the moral imperative to try to be the leaders of the renewable energy innovation wave. But, I am also a realist so I like to have my arguments founded in facts and appeal to everyone's self-interest. So the question remains, is there a strong economic benefit to become the world's leader in solar or wind technology?
There is if everyone else wants to adopt solar and wind technology, but that applies for anything. It's good to be the leader in Ferby technology if everyone else in the world wants Ferbys, but if there is no added functionality of the technology, what economic benefit does the leader gain from it? It is vital to be the head of energy efficiency and demand management technology since that does add new functionality, but is it really a problem for the United States to sit this one out and shoot for following the example of some other nation that leads on solar and wind?
Climate Change is the most serious threat that faces the world as it is a threat multiplier. Everyone should try to install as much renewable energy generation as possible as soon as possible, but I am having trouble figuring out if there is a distinct advantage to being the nation that leads on this rather than one that closely follows.
If anyone has any good arguments for why we should lead this innovation wave, please write it in the comments section.