John Doerr and Jeff Immelt: To become the green tech leader, “We must put a price on carbon and a cap on carbon emissions.”

The Washington Post finally let through a good op-ed, “Falling Behind On Green Tech,” by John Doerr partner in VC Kleiner Perkins and Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE.

As I’ve been saying for over a decade now, the U.S. has lost its lead to other countries because conservatives have blocked the policies needed to turn the U.S. historical leadership in inventing new technologies (like solar photovoltaics and compact fluorescent light bulbs) into leadership in manufacturing those technologies (see “Why other countries kick our butt on clean energy: A primer“).

We are clearly not in the lead today. That position is held by China, which understands the importance of controlling its energy future. China’s commitment to developing clean energy technologies and markets is breathtaking.

Consider: Chinese cars are more than one-third more fuel-efficient than U.S. cars. China is investing 10 times as much on clean power, as a percentage of gross domestic product, as the United States is. China is on track to create 150,000 jobs through the deployment of 120 gigawatts of wind power by 2020 — an amount equivalent to today’s global total and nearly five times America’s. As a result, China is already curbing its carbon emissions substantially. This year alone, it will abate almost 350 million tons of CO2, as compared with business as usual. That’s as much as is emitted by Argentina.

Precisely (for more see “China begins transition to a clean-energy economy“).

What is the best response, according to Doerr and Immelt?  Passing an aggressive climate and clean energy bill — just as I’ve been saying (see “The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill“):

Today’s policies stifle American innovation and competitiveness. But good policy can flip this dynamic. Five basic changes are needed:

Send a long-term signal that low-carbon energy is valuable. We must put a price on carbon and a cap on carbon emissions. No long-term signal means no serious innovation at scale, which means fewer American success stories.

Already in Waxman-Markey, check that one off.

Get the rules of the road right for utilities. We must make our utilities a driving force for repowering America, driving efficiency through incentives, a renewable electricity standard and a national unified smart grid.


Set energy standards that grow steadily stronger. America should strive to have the most efficient buildings, cars and appliances in the world. The savings will land in the pockets of U.S. consumers and businesses.


Get serious about funding research, development and deployment, at scale. The federal government currently spends only $2.5 billion on clean-energy R&D a year — 0.25 percent of our annual energy bill. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s Clean Energy Deployment Administration is a good idea that would be fast and flexible. But more such programs are needed.

Yup, CEDA is in the bill.

Fulfill President Obama’s commitment to “become the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy.” We need a robust trade policy that seeks to open markets abroad — including the Chinese market — for U.S. clean-energy products through new trade agreements. Such policies unleash American competitiveness disciplined by market forces. This is widely endorsed by U.S. companies that compete internationally and by the broad-based President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Tricky, but doable, again, if we start with passing the clean energy bill and then give President Obama and Chu and Locke eight years to help U.S. businesses peddle our products overseas after 8 years of an administration that was primarily using trade missions to hawk dirty energy.

But shouldn’t we wait for a deal with China?

Some say we shouldn’t move until China moves. In fact, China is moving full speed ahead — with or without us.There is still time for us to lead this global race, although that window is closing. We need low-carbon policies to exploit America’s strengths — innovation and entrepreneurs. We know that building such policies is a heavy political lift. But, without doubt, bad energy policy has cost our country dearly, and the costs of continuing it are incalculable.

Hear!  Hear!

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9 Responses to John Doerr and Jeff Immelt: To become the green tech leader, “We must put a price on carbon and a cap on carbon emissions.”

  1. Jeff Huggins says:


    I’ll take this opportunity to (again) suggest that McKinsey should get much more involved in strongly urging responsible policy to address the climate and energy problems.

    Responsible business leaders SHOULD be speaking out at this point, vocally and credibly.

    How long has it been since scientists first warned about CO2? How long has it been since Walter Cronkite did a news segment on the matter, way back when? How long has it been since the various IPCC reports were published?

    I’m glad that Immelt and Doerr are speaking out. Bravo!! Who else from the business community is going to speak out responsibly and take a stand on all this?

    Be Well,

    Jeff Huggins

  2. Casey Chapple says:

    Waiting to see what you have to say about Revkin’s column today in the Times.

    [JR: Not pretty!]

  3. a national unified smart grid.

    I think Waxman-Markey does not support a national grid. Correct me if I am wrong.

  4. Gary says:

    This Op-ed is especially refreshing because we have to understand climate change is going to alter the balance of power internationally. If we want the United States to remain a leading country on international security, our economy has to remain innovative and cutting edge. Just this week, China’s asking for bigger voting rights in the IMF because of its increased economic clout. The US and China need to cooperate on climate change and that won’t happen if we fall behind in the clean energy race. for more check out !

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    As far as anthropogenic global warming goes, it really isn’t important who “wins” the clean technology “race”, for example whether the USA or China or some other country becomes the world’s leading manufacturer and exporter of photovoltaics or wind turbines.

    It’s all well and good for various corporate interests and the national governments with which they are allied to seek competitive economic advantage in the growing market for clean energy technologies.

    But what’s actually important is for humanity to win the race to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with clean, renewable energy in time to avert the most catastrophic consequences of unmitigated anthropogenic global warming.

    Either we all win that race, or we all lose.

  6. glen says:

    Talking about China, leadership and opinion pieces

  7. Ken Johnson says:

    Re “Send a long-term signal that low-carbon energy is valuable. We must put a price on carbon and a cap on carbon emissions. No long-term signal means no serious innovation at scale, which means fewer American success stories.”

    And we’re going to do that with CAP-AND-TRADE?? What’s the price going to be — maybe $15 or $20 per ton? Maybe a lot less if history is any guide. The system is rigged so that the only effect innovation will have will be to keep reducing prices and quenching incentives for further innovation. “Negative feedback” is an inherent characteristic of emission trading. What’s the plan – Do we go back to Congress every few years to keep tightening the cap until we finally get the price right? I don’t know who is more irrational — climate change denialists or cap-and-trade dogmatists.

  8. Mr Army / Mr Hatch are you listening? The science is irrelevant – you are making the republican party more irrelevant and I’ll say again ” young republicans run, run as fast as you can.” And for anyone who thinks this will be easy… and the probability of poor policy and legislation is high… should Americans think that coming up with short term solutions for long term problems – on a global scale – would be easy.

  9. Rick Covert says:


    Did you read about the comments by Stephen Koonin at the Department of Energy at the Western Energy Summit that carbon capture, nuclear and biofuels should be first priority. He also wanted electric cars to be put on hold in order to make gasoline powered cars more efficient.

    [JR: If the summary there is right, then Koonin is simply wrong on many counts. Does someone have a link to his original remarks.]

    Isn’t this contrary to what the head of DOE, Stephen Chu is saying?