A new battery is rarely greeted with as much excitement as the latest smartphone or a new drug. The energy industry is widely perceived as sluggish, a provider of basic services and lacking creativity. In fact, a brighter reality is emerging — government support for energy-technology development is paying off.

Public policies to encourage the development and adoption of renewable-energy technologies are essential, because low-carbon performance is not visible to most consumers and carbon is not priced in the global market. Yet there is a widespread lack of confidence in public-sector efforts to spur innovation, as a result of the mixed record of governments in picking winners and losers among technologies1.

Some governments are considering reducing their support for renewable-energy projects. The future of the US tax credit for new wind energy is uncertain; the United Kingdom is debating scaling down subsidies for some renewables and relaxing its targets for carbon-emissions reductions, and Spain has abandoned its incentives programme and electricity-price commitments for renewable-energy power plants. The countries of the European Union disagree on a common binding target for the adoption of renewable energy by 2030.

But now is not the time to cut government support for renewables. Each day that we delay implementing low-carbon energy technologies we increase the likelihood of damage from climate change — from storms and floods to forest fires.

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