Foreign Dominance of U.S. Clean Energy Market Spells Trouble for America

If you are a small player in the U.S. clean energy market, you are having a harder and harder time finding capital to continue to fund your business, despite that fact that your domestic market is seen as the one with the largest potential for growth. So what do you do? According to Third Way, a political think tank, you look to foreign investors.

In its latest report, Fire Sale: The End of American Ownership of Clean Energy, the self-proclaimed “moderate” organization points out that American investment in clean energy is at an all time low, all the while foreign investment in the new energy economy is increasing. The government has curtailed its investment in the sector. In its report, Third Way points out, “by 2014, federal clean tech investment is expected to drop 75%, from $44.3 billion in 2009 to $11.0 billion.”  The organization expects the government’s dwindling support to lead to decreased private sector support of renewable energy as well. And this lack of support is happening despite the fact that the clean energy industry has been one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. for the past few years.

According to Third Way, Congress’ view that private sector funding will be enough to create a vibrant new industry “ignores history.”  It writes, “when the opportunities and/or risks are perceived to be in the national inter­est, the federal government has supported numerous industries and individual companies for centuries. As far back as 1789, the government imposed tariffs on coal imported from Great Britain in order to give domestic producers a competi­tive advantage in a developing domestic market.”

The report then points to the billions of dollars that the U.S. government has offered to oil, gas and nuclear companies, vastly greater than the level of support offered to renewables.

Some staggering investment numbers are put forth in the report; foreign countries are increasing their levels of investment for renewables at huge rates:

  • The United Kingdom has established a £15 billion Green Bank.
  • The China Development Bank has made available $32 billion in low-interest credit facilities to Chinese solar and wind companies.
  • Saudi Arabia wants to raise $109 billion for its solar industry.
  • Indonesia out­paced the rest of the world with a massive 521 percent growth rate in 2011.
  • India was the second fastest growing clean energy market in the world in 2011, rising 52 percent to $10.2 billion.

Further, foreign countries are investing here in the U.S. Of the 26 banks that were actively investing in clean energy in America in 2010, only six of them were U.S. based. However, what concerns Third Way the most is not that foreign countries are increasingly investing in clean energy, both in their own countries and in America; in fact, this is seen as a vote of confidence for the U.S. market, not to mention the whole industry. What is worrisome is that it appears as though the outsiders are seeing a gold mine in the U.S. clean energy economy while the American Congress sits idly by doing nothing, says Third Way.

“A Congress apparently blind to the emergence of a clean and renewable energy sector in the U.S. is about to turn over the keys to this critical industry to others. The auto industry went down this same path. Are we going to let history repeat itself?”

Lead image: Global World Economy Machine via Shutterstock.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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