US Holds Edge, But For How Long?

Dan ArvizuThe United States holds most of the world’s patents in energy innovation, including those in the construction of energy-efficient buildings, but the head of the nation’s research efforts worries that getting both broad grassroots and corporate buy-in for the concept has been slow.

And the Chinese are watching and learning, and seem poised to jump into the breach.

Dan Arvizu, director of the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, attributes an air of “complacency” to relatively low US energy prices which diminish the urgency for innovation. “Our prices make us competitive,” Arvizu told China Daily on the sidelines of the 2013 Platts Global Energy Outlook Forum in Manhattan last week. “But they also make us complacent.”

Even if implementing energy-efficient change is in someone’s best financial interest, he said, “the perception is: ‘I’ve got to make a compromise on how I do things to take advantage of these new technologies'”.

He offered several reasons for this reluctance. “First, people need to know if it’s possible,” he said. If people don’t know that an innovation is actually implementable, they won’t pursue it. Second, he said, “they actually have to care”. Using energy-efficiency as an example, he said, if people think “energy’s not my problem, it’s a tolerable cost”, they’re “not going to spend any time” with the concept.

The implications of these views are significant, according to Arvizu. The US needs to get innovative technologies into the marketplace quickly to wring the maximum benefit from the competitive edge it still holds, before China ramps up its pursuit of world energy business, luring investors with low-cost technology.

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