Sustainable Energy Innovation Needs to Grow at a Quicker Pace: World Economic Forum

The white paper highlights that investment in research and development in clean technologies have not seen notable growth in the past couple of years


The World Economic Forum has released a white paper titled  ‘Accelerating Sustainable Energy Innovation’ that argues the pace of innovation in sustainable energy is not adequate to address the challenges of climate change.

Two-thirds of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are from energy consumption and production activities and it is imperative that innovation in sustainable energy systems is accelerated. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) only solar PV, onshore wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles are technologies mature enough for large scale deployment.

The report highlights that though there is a significant increase in funding for cleaner technologies, investment in research and development (R&D) have seen no growth in the past couple of years. Carbon capture and utilization, hydrogen, advanced nuclear, advanced biofuels, efficient heating and cooling are some of the technology areas with great potential. However, high costs, low returns, system inertia, and long lead times make it challenging for the innovation to match the pace needed for climate mitigation.

A multi-stakeholder approach, that includes innovation systems, transition studies, environmental and ecological economics can create a balance between economic growth, energy security, and system reliability during a complex energy transition.

Regulatory policies, public R&D funding programmes, and innovation alliances are fundamental necessities to accelerate energy innovation, as market economics often do not support newer technologies. It is up to the government to incentivize and create a credible regulatory framework that supports investment in sustainable energy technology innovations. ARPA-E (USA), Kopernikus Program (Germany), and KIC InnoEnergy (EU) are some examples of public funding programs to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in nascent technology areas.

The paper proposes setting up an independent international fund to finance energy technology projects to accelerate this innovation. It could be financed through interested governments, the private sector, and climate philanthropists. It could be a win-win arrangement for funding countries, as it will provide better market access to newer technologies at a much lower cost.

Mercom recently  reported that the United States Department of Energy (DoE) is giving $10.5 million to Sandia National Laboratories to research and design a cheaper and more efficient concentrating solar energy system.

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