What are new energy technologies

EPA-IEA study: More innovation in clean energy technologies needed to achieve climate goals

April 27, 2021

The number of innovations in the field of low-carbon energy technologies increased globally by an average of 3.3% annually between 2017 and 2019. This is a result of the joint study by the European Patent Office (EPA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), which was published today.

From the report Patents and the Energy Transition: Global Trends in Innovations in Clean Energy Technologies also shows that the number of global patents for low-carbon energy technologies has grown steadily over the past two decades, with the exception of a slump between 2014 and 2016. This trend has been offset by a continued decline in patenting activities for fossil energies since 2015. However, the annual increase in patents for low-carbon energy technologies in recent years is only a quarter of the annual growth of 12.5% ​​in the period between 2000 and 2013.

This makes it clear that further innovations are necessary in order to accelerate the availability and diversity of these technologies and to make them more economical. At the same time, concerted political measures are also required in the broad spectrum of low-carbon energy technologies - from energy generation to energy use and storage to application by the end user.

Some of these technologies are already in industrial use, while others are still in the early stages of development or testing. According to the IEA, the current climate goals can only be achieved by significantly increasing the pace of innovation for clean energy technologies, as many technologies that will be needed in the coming decades to reduce CO2 emissions only exist as prototypes or are still in the proof-of-stage. Concept phase.

"The energy transition required to combat climate change is a challenge of enormous size and complexity," said EPO President António Campinos. "This report is a clear call to accelerate research and innovation in new low-carbon energy technologies and to improve existing technologies. While we are seeing encouraging developments in various countries and industries, including key cross-cutting technologies, the report highlights the need to continue to innovate in clean energy technologies. "

"In order to achieve the target net zero emissions balance by 2050, almost half of all emissions reductions must come from technologies that are not yet on the market today," said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol By bringing together the complementary strengths of our organizations, this joint IEA / EPO report provides a reliable basis for identifying and monitoring strengths and weaknesses in patenting activities in low carbon energy technologies Picture of the current status of the energy transition. "

The innovation landscape in the energy sector is changing

Using the data on International Patent Families (IPF), the study provides an overview of the major trends in innovation in low-carbon energy technologies between 2000 and 2019. Each IPF represents a single high-quality invention for which patent applications have been filed for protection in more than two countries . Since patents are filed many months or even years before products are actually launched, they are assigned the role of leading indicators for future technical developments.

Since 2000, companies around the world have submitted over 420,000 IPFs in the low carbon energy space. This includes inventions in three categories: low carbon Energy supply technologies (including renewable energies such as solar, wind, geothermal or hydropower); Technologies that one more efficient use of energy or a change of fuel (e.g. for low-carbon power generation) in end-use applications such as vehicles, buildings or industrial production; and so-called Cross-sectional technologiesthat cover supply and end consumption or improve infrastructure with the aim of achieving a higher level of clean energy (including battery technology, hydrogen technology, intelligent networks as well as CO2 capture, use and storage).

As the study shows, patenting activities in connection with energy supply technologies including renewable energies have been declining since 2012. This reflects the maturity of a group of these technologies - including solar PV - that has not yet been followed by a new wave of improvements in other renewable energies such as biofuels or the use of ocean energy. In 2019, energy supply technologies accounted for only 17% of all global low-carbon inventions.

Technologies related to end-user use, on the other hand, have shown comparatively stable development in recent years and have represented the majority (60%) of all inventions in low-carbon energy technologies in the last five years. This reflects the great challenge of reducing energy demand across the economy. The largest end-use sectors for inventions in clean energy technologies between 2000 and 2019 were transport (vehicles, trains, planes, ships; over 116,000 IPF for 2000-2019) followed by energy efficiency technologies for industrial production (86,000 IPF) with particularly dynamic patenting activity in Sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, such as the metal industry (for example in steel production).

The report also shows that cross-sectional technologies (batteries, hydrogen, intelligent networks, CO2 capture) have grown the most significantly since 2017. Their share of the total IPF for low-carbon energy rose from 27% in 2000 to 34% in 2019. These cross-sectional technologies are playing an increasingly important role in the energy transition by linking different solutions for clean energy with one another, making the energy sector more flexible.

The rise of electric vehicles fuels innovation

A major innovation driver in the last decade has been the surge in technologies in connection with electric vehicles, which has been significantly boosted by advances in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (see EPA-IEA study on innovations in batteries and power storage systems (September 2020). This trend is also reflected in the ranking of the leading low-carbon energy technology companies since 2000, which includes six automotive companies and six of their largest battery suppliers. Also with regard to end-use technologies, the number of IPFs in electric vehicles as of 2011 outperformed other clean energy technologies for road vehicles (including those aiming at more efficient combustion engines as well as improved aerodynamics, weight reduction or more energy-efficient components and subsystems).

Europe, Japan and USA lead with different specializations

As the study shows with regard to the most important regional innovation trends, European companies and research institutions have been leaders since 2000 when it comes to patents on inventions in the field of low-carbon energy, with a share of 28% (12% for Germany alone) of all IPF in these technologies in the past decade (2010-19), followed by applicants from Japan (25%), the USA (20%), South Korea (10%) and China (8%).

While Europe ranks first in most fields and is particularly strong in end-use sectors such as rail and aviation, Japan leads in technologies for electric vehicles, batteries and hydrogen. The US has a technological edge in aviation, biofuels and carbon capture. South Korea's greatest strengths are in the areas of battery, solar PV technology and energy-efficient solutions in industrial production and in the ICT sector, in which China also specializes.

The report also shows that countries, particularly the US and European countries, are working together across borders to develop low-carbon technologies, while also highlighting the potential for international cooperation and knowledge-sharing to further expand research and development (R&D).

Overall, the share of IPF in clean energy technologies originating from research institutions (universities and public research institutions) has increased (from 6.6% between 2000 and 2009 to 8.5% between 2010 and 2019). Research institutions are particularly active in low-carbon energy supply technologies (alternative fuels, nuclear and some renewables) and emerging cross-cutting technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen.

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