A new joint study published by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) has highlighted the need to accelerate innovation in clean energy technologies to meet climate goals.
According to the study, the number of patents for inventions related to low-carbon energy technologies worldwide grew by an average rate of 3.3% per year between 2017 and 2019. This progress is only a quarter of the average annual growth rate recorded a decade ago (+12.5% for 2000-13).
According to the report, further innovation, accompanied by concerted policy action, in a wide range of low-carbon energy technologies — from energy production to transmission, storage, and end-use applications — is required to fast-track the availability and diversity of technologies and to bring down costs.
The study finds that patents related to energy supply technologies, including renewables, has been falling since 2012. It reflects the recent market maturity of a cohort of these technologies — including solar PV — which have not yet been followed by a new wave of improvements to other renewables, such as biofuels or ocean energy. In 2019, energy supply technologies accounted for only 17% of all low-carbon inventions globally.
The report, ‘Patents and the energy transition: global trends in clean energy technology innovation’, finds that except for a slump between 2014 and 2016, the number of global patents in low-carbon energy technologies has been rising over the past two decades. This contrasts with a decline in patenting in fossil fuels since 2015.
The report noted that some of the energy supply technologies are already in use on an industrial scale, while others are still at a nascent stage of development or deployment. According to the IEA, current climate targets can only be achieved by a major acceleration in clean energy innovation, as many of the technologies required in the coming decades to bring down CO2 emissions are only at the prototype or demonstration phase today.
“The energy transition needed to mitigate climate change presents a challenge of enormous scale and complexity,” said EPO President António Campinos. “This report is a clear call for action to step up research and innovation into new low-carbon energy technologies and improve existing ones,” he added.
“Around half the emissions reductions to get to net-zero by 2050 may need to come from technologies that are not yet on the market,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, adding, “This calls for massive leaps in innovation, but up until now, information on the progress being made has been limited.”
The report presents the major trends in low-carbon energy innovation between 2000 and 2019 measured in terms of international patent families. As patent applications are filed many months or even years before products appear on the market, they are often seen as an early indicator of future technology trends, the study said.
The report also finds that enabling technologies (batteries, hydrogen, smart grids, carbon capture) have experienced the strongest growth since 2017 overall. Their share increased from 27% of all low-carbon energy international patent filings (IPF) in 2000 to 34% in 2019.
A key driver of innovation in the past decade has been the surge in technologies related to electric vehicles, spurred to a considerable extent by advances in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The study had shed light on how Asian consumer electronics players and carmakers are driving research and development in the battery and energy storage arena.
Looking at the key regional innovation trends, the study finds that since 2000, European companies and research institutes have led in patenting low-carbon energy inventions, with 28% (12% for Germany alone) of all international patent families in these technologies in the past decade (2010-19), followed by Japanese (25%), US (20%), South Korean (10%) and Chinese (8%) applicants.
In October last year, India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research had joined hands with Tata Steel to work toward carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) to combat climate change and global warming. The move was aimed at cutting down on carbon emissions and expediting the transition toward a decarbonized economy.
The Department of Science and Technology had also invited proposals from Indian researchers in the area of carbon capture, utilization, and storage under the Accelerating CCUS Technologies (ACT) program in collaboration with other ACT member-countries.
Srinwanti is a copy editor at Mercom India, where she writes and edits news stories across the clean energy spectrum. Prior to Mercom, she has worked in book publishing at Macmillan Publishing House and Integra and honed her editorial and writing skills in both online and print media such as Reuters, Times Group Books, The Times of India, and Pune Mirror, covering local to international stories. More articles from Srinwanti Das.