Whether or not the world has all of the clean energy technologies it needs to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions is an important ongoing debate among the climate policy community. Buoyed by steep cost reductions for wind and solar power technologies during the past decade, proponents argue political will is the major factor holding clean energy back from dominating the global energy market. Critics counter that even with recent cost reductions clean energy still isn’t realistically competitive with fossil fuels everywhere without the help of unsustainable subsidies and contentious government mandates.
The debate over whether clean energy is ready for global primetime has long-lasting policy impacts. Proponents often advocate for subsidies, mandates, and carbon prices that directly boost the deployment of today’s clean energy technologies. Critics often argue for a more comprehensive innovation strategy aimed at developing cheaper, better clean energy technologies, including more research, development and deployment (RD&D) and subsidy reform. And with limited or declining public support for climate and clean energy policy, this tug-of-war plays out in government budgets, advocacy campaigns, and international climate negotiations. For example, the world invests $254 billion in clean energy finance and deployment, but only $21 billion in clean energy RD&D.
Is clean energy poised for global scale-up, modest deployment, or is more innovation needed? How should U.S. policy reflect clean energy’s technological readiness?