EPO-IEA report: Accelerate Clean Energy Innovation for Carbon Neutrality

EPO-IEA report: Accelerate Clean Energy Innovation for Carbon Neutrality

While the world’s carbon emissions continue to rise, technological innovation in the clean energy sector is failing to counter them with a good momentum, as per a joint report released by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) yesterday.

The report entitled ‘Patents and the Energy Transition: Global Trends in Clean Energy Technology Innovation’ found that the average annual growth rate of patents for low carbon emissions technologies has reduced to 3.3% since 2017, significantly slower than the average level of 12.5% in the period 2000-2013. Further, it stated that around 35 percent of the cumulative CO2 emissions reductions needed to shift to a sustainable path to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 are still currently at the prototype or demonstration phase.

These statistics serve as an important heads-up for nations with ambitious ‘net-zero’ goals, such as the 2050 deadline set by the UK, the U.S. and France for a full clean energy transition. As was observed at the climate summit held last week in Washington, many nations recommitted to their goals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century or soon thereafter. The EPO-IEA report, however, says that the energy sector will only reach net-zero emissions if there is a significant and concerted global push to accelerate innovation.

Speaking about the steps required to achieve carbon-neutrality, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said, “This calls for massive leaps in innovation, but up until now information on the progress being made has been limited. By combining the complementary strengths of the IEA and the EPO, this report gives us a stronger foundation for identifying and tracking strengths and weaknesses in low-carbon energy patenting, providing a much better picture of the state of the energy transition.”

The study discovered that a major chunk of patent activities- 60% to be exact- is the monopoly of energy efficiency and fuel-switching technologies. Renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, etc), on the other hand, have increasingly been holding lesser stake in total patent activity for almost 10 years, including just 17% in 2019. Since 2017, patent growth has mainly occurred on account of innovation in cross-cutting technologies such as batteries, hydrogen and smart grids, along with carbon-capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). The report shows that these technologies increased from 27% in 2000 to 34% in 2019 in terms of patent applications. Electric vehicles were found to be dominating end-use technologies in low-carbon energy patenting. Although China is leading international patent applications, being an early adopter of electric vehicles, it is not performing well in low emissions innovation, in which sector Europe is at the top with 28% patent filings. Japan, the US, South Korea and China stand at 25%, 20%, 10% and 8% respectively.

EPO President António Campinos said, “This report is a clear call for action to step up research and innovation into new low-carbon energy technologies, and improve existing ones. While it reveals some encouraging trends across countries and industry sectors, including in key cross-cutting technologies, it also highlights the need to further accelerate innovation in clean energy technologies, some of which are still only emerging.”

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.