Contrasting lessons from Germany's 20-year pursuit of solar and wind power shows how other countries might create industrial champions to develop new energy technologies.
A long-term, global energy recipe for climate change and security may be emerging, as countries plan broadly to shift to gas from coal, to electricity and biofuels from oil, and add more or less of nuclear, renewable energy and, in the future, carbon capture and storage (CCS).
National choices depend on local energy riches and strengths in skills, labour or raw materials plus a rather hubristic (and dangerously irrational) political-industrial desire to beat the opposition.
Present technology races include the United States, South Korea and Japan vying to develop electric car batteries, China's attempts to crack European and US domination of wind, after success in solar, and British aims to lead in marine and offshore wind.
But what's the right motive for energy policy - local supply, cost, carbon emissions, jobs or industrial power?
Germany is the world solar leader with some 25 gigawatts installed, more than a third of the world total and double that of second placed Italy.
The springboard was Berlin's 2000 Renewable Energy Act which raised targets for wind and solar power through incentives whose costs were passed to energy consumers.
The Act aimed to create climate-friendly, locally sourced energy and jobs. In an "explanatory memorandum", the text said that previous support for wind power in Spain, Germany and Denmark had nurtured a European wind turbine manufacturing industry.
"Against this background, the market introduction of renewable energy sources should not be underestimated in terms of its importance for industrial policy, not least because it can be safely assumed in view of global climate problems that there will be rapidly growing demand world-wide," it said.
As an industrial strategy, the Act helped nurture industrial leadership in wind, for example at Siemens, much as Denmark created Vestas, the world's biggest turbine maker.
But solar manufacturing turned out to have lower barriers to entry and Chinese producers have undercut many in Germany. The solar sector has employed over 100,000 people, but some installers may lose jobs as the government pares support, and engineers too, as manufacturing shifts to China.
Solar has other problems compared with wind: as a tool to cut carbon emissions, it takes a lot of solar power to make a difference.
While solar accounted for 10 per cent of German power generating capacity in 2010, according Eurelectric, it only produced 1.6 per cent of electricity consumed, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA): Germany isn't the sunniest country.
On the plus side, regarding consumer cost, the Act led to a net saving for households, according to one journal article study of the year 2006, because renewable power catered for peak demand and so suppressed the prices utilities could charge.
And the net economic effect was calculated as positive, because of additional investment and demand.
What does this tell other countries? For one thing, plunging costs and rapid adoption have shown the benefit of a learning curve where ramping up production cuts unit costs.
But it also suggests offshore wind may have been a better fit with Germany's energy resources, and with higher barriers to competition.
Perhaps the lesson for Britain, now looking for an industrial energy champion after missing the boat in both wind and solar, is to exploit its natural advantages in marine power.
Both its government-funded Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) are driving investments in wave and tidal power, while solar is off the radar.
However, investment so far is limited, and ETI's modelling forsees a negligible role for marine power in Britain by 2050, based on cost, performance and how technologies interact - worryingly so, given the model's preference instead for a huge reliance on nuclear and unproven CCS.
ETI Chief Executive David Clarke describes investment in offshore wind as a "hedge" in case those don't work.
While one investment need not permanently close off another, the pressure is to make the right choice, given the long incubation time of technologies and further decades to adopt and fine-tune them.
With half an eye on industrial strategy, for Britain that may mean a serious bet on wave and tidal power.
As a UK Parliamentary committee urged last month, in an echo of the German 2000 Act: "The opportunities for deployment of these (marine) technologies worldwide are considerable. An overly cautious approach to developing the sector may allow other less risk-averse countries to steal the UK's lead."
This story was originally published by Reuters. Reproduced with permission.