There is a long-running debate in clean energy policy over whether we should focus on innovation to create new technologies or simply deploy the technologies we already have. The reality is this debate represents a false choice: it shouldn’t be whether to deploy, but how. Part of the problem is that little attention is paid to the kinds of innovation we need: deployment can drive incremental innovation, which is important, but is also insufficient to develop the low-cost clean energy technologies the world needs to slow the buildup of carbon emissions. Instead, we need to recognize the limitations of incremental innovation, as well as the political and economic realities that make large-scale deployment unlikely in the near term. A better strategy would be to implement targeted deployment strategies that can drive incremental innovation where appropriate without simply propping up low-upside technologies, while driving hard at more radical public-private innovation. This is the best way to yield the full suite of cleantech solutions we need.