Guest Commentary: Where certainty leads, innovation follows

By Pierre Gauthier

At a time when austerity is dominating fiscal policy, we must not lose sight of the historic role that public funding has played in catalyzing the development and proliferation of new technologies, especially in the energy sector.

Many of these new technologies, launched to meet America’s social and infrastructure demands, ultimately define America’s role as a global leader in innovation while providing a competitive edge for U.S. businesses.

As a nation, if we want to foster new solutions to global challenges and create an environment in which new industries can thrive, public investment in research and development must be continued.

Markets and industries thrive on certainty.

While it may not be prudent today to expect large-scale increases in federal R&D funding, policymakers should work to establish clear targets around which the private sector can shape commercially viable innovation programs.

Congress could help drive energy technology programs by addressing regulatory hurdles, extending or solidifying R&D investments at current funding levels, or establishing new incentives to spark private investment.

In keeping with the sensible ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy, we should support a range of energy technologies, from cleaner use of fossil fuels and wind power to systems that make our power grid more efficient and resilient.

It all starts by signaling clear, long-term national energy priorities that drive investment:

Offshore Wind Advancement: Last year, Alstom inaugurated the largest offshore wind turbine in the world.

Yet in order to create this new market place and tap the resources available, we need to work closely with government and industry experts to continue advancing the growth and commercialization of offshore wind.

These next generation offshore wind turbines will be able to supply the equivalent of the electricity consumption of 5,000 households.

Offshore Grid Resiliency: Our company is part of the team developing the groundbreaking, innovative Atlantic Wind Connection project that will create the offshore backbone electricity transmission system needed for wind projects.

The focus of our efforts right now is on the manufacture and delivery of HVDC multi-terminal system components that can carry power from offshore wind project to shore.

Ocean Energy: A growth area in renewable power, we’re committed to developing ocean energy to the fullest by pushing new advances for the wave, tidal and offshore wind markets.

We are in the process of refining solutions that will be used in the first commercial tidal power plants — an enormous step forward that requires research and testing to become commercially viable.

Enhanced Oil Recovery: A process that is essential to getting more out of the areas we already know can help us meet our needs. Legislation such as the proposal from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., which promotes enhanced recovery by funding development through the use of existing enhanced recovery tax revenues is essential to furthering advancement in this area through more research and development.

The full list is even longer, but it’s clear that American companies are ready to innovate and have already made significant investments in several of these areas.

Investments in wind power are reducing costs, adding new momentum behind the potential of America’s offshore wind resources. Investments in enhanced oil and gas recovery are changing our energy infrastructure and moving us closer to energy independence.

No doubt, we must responsibly use our limited R&D resources.

But establishing certainty around long-term priorities for energy innovation is one of the best options on the table to advance these and other game-changing technologies and help take our economy to the next level. Let’s continue as a nation to look forward.

Pierre Gauthier is President and CEO, Alstom U.S. and Canada.