President Barack Obama laid out a broad agenda for investment, innovation, jobs, and American competitiveness in his 2011 State of the Union. At the heart of the president’s plan is an ambitious proposal to transform the nation’s energy infrastructure away from the technologies we’ve been using for more than 100 years—inefficient and polluting coal-fired power plants—toward new, clean energy sources.
The president challenged Americans to put our innovative spirit and entrepreneurial prowess to the test, asking us to fuel the engine of our economic recovery with a new generation of clean energy resources with the power to create jobs in U.S.-based industries, launch new businesses, and rewire our cities and rural communities with cutting edge technology and state-of-the-art infrastructure.
Encapsulating this challenge is President Obama’s call for a “clean energy standard” to produce 80 percent of our nation’s electricity from cleaner energy sources by 2035. The president harkened back to President John F. Kennedy’s response to Soviet space successes by launching a space race that challenged Americans to reach the moon within the decade. Americans rolled up our sleeves and met this challenge in eight years—and in so doing built an entire aerospace industry that has continued to foster American innovation and create jobs to this day.
The race to produce clean energy as a source of economic competitiveness and innovation is at the heart of our generation’s new “Sputnik moment.” But President Obama’s State of the Union address included a cautionary message as well, which citizens, entrepreneurs, and lawmakers must recognize as we prepare to meet the president’s clean energy challenge. “The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still,” he told us. Instead, “clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”
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