Panel Paper: Supporting Clean Energy Innovation in the United States and China

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 4:00 PM
Georgetown II (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Joanna Lewis, Georgetown University
China has emerged as a key center of innovation as China’s government research laboratories, universities, and domestic and multinational corporations have increased their innovative activity in recent years. High-level government economic plans now regularly call for increased attention to both indigenous innovation and the promotion of foreign investments in fields of strategic importance for the country, including clean energy. China has become a global leader in the manufacturing of many essential clean energy technologies, and in 2012 it invested more than any other country in clean energy deployment. Despite increasing trends in both public and private R&D spending across clean energy technology firms and research institutes, China still lags other nations in patenting activity and other metrics of innovation in this sector. As China’s policymakers look to further strengthen their own national clean energy innovation system, the United States system for supporting early-stage and transformative energy technologies offers a possible model.

This paper compares and contrasts the innovation systems that have been used to support clean energy research, development, deployment and dissemination in the United States and in China. It begins by assessing the current political climate for clean energy innovation in a global context, including challenges that American and Chinese industries are currently facing in remaining competitive, and the overall market status of leading Chinese and American firms in key clean energy technologies. It then turns to examining key elements and actors in each system, including who conducts and who funds R&D, and how innovation is incentivized, by mapping institutional actors, funding flows and policy support measures. This top-down assessment of institutions, actors and funding flows is then combined with an in-depth look at several firm-level case studies. The paper examines several notable cases of government support for clean energy innovations in both countries, and analyzes the factors that likely contributed to successes and failures within these cases.

After a comparative assessment of the strengths and weaknesses within the Chinese and the US system, the paper offers recommendations both for improving policy in each country to better support clean energy at various stages of the innovation process, and for improving collaborative innovation that benefits from the respective strengths of both countries.