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Innovation in breakthrough energy technologies is notoriously challenging, despite having potentially large rewards. Individual innovations are embedded in larger systems where change is very hard. These innovations often carry significant capital costs to demonstrate, commercialize, or reach economies of scale. Unlike the latest cell phone, consumers are often unwilling to pay more for a new energy innovation, especially when the rewards are in the future.

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In his annual State of the Union address, President Obama declared: “I will not walk away from clean energy.” His words were a sharp rebuttal to critics harping on the Solyndra bankruptcy and others making dire predictions about the downfall of the renewable energy industry. So, who is right? Will 2012 be a breakthrough year for renewable, or will it collapse?

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In the United States, there is a heated debate about how much government should support renewable energy innovation. While you won’t find anyone who says they don’t value ‘innovation’, the U.S. federal investment in energy innovation across both fossil and renewable technology is still anemic, badly trailing China and only about one third of the amount recommended by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. That’s unfortunate, because there are compelling reasons to accelerate innovation in the energy sector, and specifically in renewable energy.

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The case of the solar company Solyndra has been getting widespread attention, but much of the current discussion misses the point. While some would like to portray the collapse of this company as the downfall of the U.S. solar industry, the larger picture tells a very different story.

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From June 22-24, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) will co-host the premiere knowledge-sharing platform for clean energy investment in Asia, the 6th Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF). Taking place in Manila, Philippines, the event brings together energy leaders from around the world to discuss clean energy policy, regulation, financing and innovative business models.

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On June 2nd, I had the pleasure of speaking at the C40 Summit in São Paulo, Brazil. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group consists of iconic cities from around the world committed to addressing climate change. Chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the group has recently joined forces with the Clinton Climate Initiative’s Cities Program. Together, this partnership can have meaningful role in the fight against climate change.

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Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a comprehensive study on renewable energy, entitled Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. The report finds that by 2050, nearly 80 percent of the world's energy supply could be provided by renewable energy sources. WRI Analyst Lutz Weischer, who works on renewable energy policies, sat down to talk about the report’s implications.

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Background

Solar photovoltaics (PV) is a commercially proven technology and, in markets with incentives, can compete with traditional fossil fuel-based power. Wider adoption and decreases in manufacturing costs are driving down the cost of solar electricity. As the industry grows and

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Renewable energy (RE)—electricity from wind, solar, and other naturally renewing energy sources— has drawn increasing attention in the quest to reduce greenhouse gases on a scale commensurate with the dictates of climate science. Renewables have the

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