Energy is core to our nation’s vitality. Our economy is dependent on it. Our alliances, fiscal strength, and overall competitiveness as a country are all strongly influenced by how we supply our energy needs. And right now, we’re endangering American leadership by not moving more quickly to develop a cleaner, more competitive energy economy.

The cost of our heavy reliance on fossil fuels is growing rapidly. It hurts our trade balance. Oil imports now account for nearly half of our trade deficit. It makes us vulnerable to global instability. Recent disruptions in even a tiny oil state like Libya sent gas prices soaring to $4 per gallon, causing hardship for millions of Americans. And it hurts our competitiveness. We use roughly 30 percent more energy to produce a dollar of GDP than Europe or Japan.

It’s clear that America needs a smarter approach to energy. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll get an intelligent energy policy from Washington anytime soon; the political environment is just too polarized.

Thankfully, thousands of American businesses, investors, entrepreneurs, and state and local governments are helping to bootstrap the nation towards a more secure and sustainable economy.

Corporate leaders are seizing the opportunities created by the increasing demand for cleaner, more efficient solutions. Household names like IBM, HP, Walmart, GM and Google have made significant investments in these growing markets. GE doubled its R&D in clean technologies and generates nearly $20 billion from selling them. Dow saves over $750 million annually through energy efficiency. Chevron is spending over $2 billion on renewables in the next three years. The list goes on, as more leading companies invest in high growth lean and clean technology businesses, creating shareholder value for years to come, not just the next quarter.

Similarly, American investors are getting into the game. Venture firms put over $2 billion into U.S. cleantech companies in the first quarter, up 43% from a year ago. Private equity firms and corporations are pouring money into acquiring cleantech firms, completing 130 deals worth over $39 billion last year.

Pension funds investing in large renewable projects can generate reliable, long term yields of 8%-10% with investment grade credit risk – meaningfully higher than similarly rated investment grade bonds today. And the favorable response to recent cleantech IPOs such as MolyCorp, Tesla, and Solazyme shows that even growth investors see the upside in this space.

Mirroring the private sector, an increasing number of state and local governments, led by both parties, are building a vibrant clean economy for their constituents. Twenty-nine states now have “renewable portfolio standards” designed to drive the adoption of clean energy.

Across the country, hundreds of cities and towns have adopted energy efficiency codes for residential and commercial buildings, which consume 71% of all electricity produced in the U.S. American foundations are increasingly active as well, highlighted by the recent merger of Mayor Bloomberg’s and President Clinton’s clean economy efforts, which will focus on helping many of the world’s largest cities, including New York, Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, improve their energy profile.

Finally, despite the economic crisis and increasing politicization of issues like climate change, the American public clearly gets what’s at stake. In a recent poll, nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they would prefer a candidate who supports moving beyond oil and investing in cleaner technologies, such as more fuel-efficient cars and renewable energy.

The good news is that the transition to a cleaner economy is happening. Businesses, investors, and local policy makers are attracted by the superior long-term economics that clean energy investments offer. The cost of a kilowatt hour of wind power has dropped by an annual rate of 4% over the past 20 years, while the cost of a solar module has declined by more than 50% in the past three years alone. Moreover, the fuel – wind and sunlight – is both free and free from price volatility. Boards, CEOs, investors, and policymakers with long term perspectives realize the enormous potential of these technologies as they scale up and costs come down.

The bad news is that it’s not happening fast enough. The US ranks 17th in the production of clean technologies as a percentage of GDP. Meanwhile, competitors like China and the EU have policies that recognize the increasing benefits of clean energy versus volatile and rising fossil fuels costs.

Investing now to capture these benefits is sound business and sound national policy. While total investment in clean energy in the U.S. was only $21 billion in 2009, China invested over $114 billion in the same period. One result: China supplied nearly 70% of all solar panels sold globally in 2010.

America desperately needs a national clean energy policy. With the most innovative, dynamic, and flexible free market economy in the history of the world, the U.S. should capture a large share of the growing global clean energy economy.

While not enough to ensure our long term leadership, the bootstrapping efforts of businesses and local leaders across the country can help us move forward while demonstrating to national policy makers of both parties that the clean energy future is one they should fully embrace.

Jeff McDermott is the Managing Partner of Greentech Capital Advisors and a registered Republican. Nicholas Eisenberger is the Managing Partner of Pure Energy Partners and a registered Democrat. Both acted as co-Chairs of the American Council on Renewable Energy’s Renewable Energy Finance Forum-Wall Street.

ACORE is a membership-based organization dedicated to advancing renewable energy in the U.S. through policy, finance and education. ACORE’S membership works in all sectors of renewable energy, including wind power, solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy, biomass, biofuels, and waste energy. ACORE provides a common platform for thought leadership through member engagement, conferences, programs, research and communications. ACORE, a 501©(3) non-profit organization, is headquartered in Washington, DC. Additional information is available at: