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US agencies seek input on improving competitiveness of clean tech exports

27 August 2021 Kevin Adler

The US Department of Commerce (Commerce) and Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate are asking for public comment on how US companies can expand their exports of clean technologies.

In a Federal Register notice, slated for 30 August publication, Commerce's US International Trade Administration (ITA) said it seeks stakeholder input on how to develop a "US Clean Technologies Export Competitive Strategy" this fall.

Comments are due 1 November.

Speaking about the impact of US policy on export competitiveness, Marty Durbin, senior vice president for policy, US Chamber of Commerce, told Net-Zero Business Daily that exports are key to US economic security. "More than 95% of the world's population, and 80% of its purchasing power, are outside the United States," he said.

"Federal investment in clean energy technology development is poised to grow enormously with passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the US Innovation and Competition Act," Durbin continued. "US businesses are already leading the world in innovation, and the private sector could see a big boost from this investment. The world is increasingly focused on climate solutions; opportunities abound to grow exports of American technologies, products and services."

President Joe Biden has made tackling the climate crisis a priority, along with promotion of American-made clean energy technologies to "outcompete China" and the rest of the world.

Citing Biden's January executive order, "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad," the ITA said it will do its share to "put climate considerations at the forefront of United States foreign policy and national security" and "integrate such considerations into its export promotion work."

This includes efforts under Biden's Build Back Better economic recovery plan, which seeks to expand US manufacturing and create new jobs in clean industries, the agency added.

The solicitation seeks public input in a wide range of sectors:

  • Electricity and heat production (which the ITA said contributes 25% of global direct GHG emissions);
  • Agriculture, forestry, and other land use (24%);
  • Industry (21%);
  • Transportation (14%);
  • Other energy emissions not directly associated with electricity or heat production, such as fuel extraction, refining, processing, and transportation (9.6%); and
  • Buildings (6.4%).

"Competitiveness entails the capacity to produce and deploy affordable, reliable, and accessible clean technologies and compete in global markets, with the overall aim of accelerating global private sector capabilities to fight the effects of climate change while also bringing benefits to the US economy and people," the ITA said.

The solicitation seeks answers to 16 broad questions, which cover issues such as how technologies and services are defined as "clean," and which of those technologies offer the strongest near-term benefits, as compared to those that might take five years or more to have a positive impact. Respondents also are encouraged to identify technologies/services in which the US currently has a competitive edge, and those where it lags behind (and to state why it lags). And the solicitation asks for public input on what roadblocks and barriers exist to improving US competitiveness, and how they can be removed.

Emerging initiatives

Biden's initiatives so far have often supported US cleantech industries because they can help achieve his dual goals of rapid reductions in US GHG emissions and promotion of job growth.

For example, Executive Order 14017 signed in February, mandated a 100-day review to improve supply chains. "Resilient American supply chains will revitalize and rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity, maintain America's competitive edge in research and development, and create well-paying jobs," it stated.

The $1.2-trillion infrastructure plan, which has passed the Senate and is waiting for a vote in the House in September, includes infrastructure investments aimed at improving, as well as decarbonizing, America's ports, roads, and bridges—all of which will improve movement of goods and equipment.

As another example, the administration announced in June the National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries, which would secure raw materials for batteries and support a domestic manufacturing base that also could export batteries over time.

Critical minerals and base metals go beyond lithium to supplies of copper, nickel, cobalt, and manganese, say experts. During a panel discussion in early July, Tristan Abbey, president of Comarus Analytics, suggested that the US Department of Energy should revive its loan program for mining and processing projects.

On supply chain matters, IHS Markit has predicted that recycling of key materials will be necessary to ramp up supplies of key materials.

The US solar energy industry has been cheered by another administrative action: the ban on imports from a few producers of polysilicon products in China over alleged forced labor practices. "We fully support the Biden admin­istration's efforts to address any forced labor in the solar supply chain," the Solar Energy Industries Association said in June. "The fact is, we do not have transparency into supply chains in the Xinjiang region, and there is too much risk in operating there."

The American Manufacturers for a Clean Energy Economy (AMCEE) actually wants to go further, stating on 27 August that selective action against a few Chinese companies, per the new Biden policy, is inadequate. AMCEE favors legislation introduced by Senator Jon Ossoff, Democrat-Georgia, which would provide tax credits on goods such as polysilicon and photovoltaic modules. "AMCEE supports [Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act] and other legislation aimed at promoting policies that expand and increase domestic clean energy manufacturing, and calls for the introduction of similar legislation to support other types of clean energy, including battery and wind component manufacturing," it said.

Posted 27 August 2021 by Kevin Adler, Editor, Climate & Sustainability Group, IHS Markit

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