By replicating good practices and exploring bold new ideas, sustainable energy innovation can take a leap forward. While the merits, feasibility and appetite for those ideas require further exploration, we present the following step-changes for consideration:
The long, complex and fragmented innovation process calls for an institutional approach that takes a systemic perspective of the energy system and encourages strong collaboration among many stakeholders. National institutions focusing on energy innovation can be instrumental in connecting isolated groups of experts and plugging the gaps that prevent faster conversion of basic research to commercially feasible projects.
In addition, an institutional approach can improve access to early-stage finance, allow better knowledge sharing through research collaboration, and provide resources for demonstration and implementation in a timely and well-targeted manner. It can also enable innovation through more systematic use of 'regulatory sandboxes.'
By diverting a portion of domestic clean energy R&D funding to an international fund pool, countries can provide better market access to innovative technologies and solutions, collaborate on innovation agendas in specific technology areas, and offer a platform for private-sector investment in sustainable energy innovation. The entity could also include payback mechanisms for successful ventures designed to lower the long-term costs.
The effectiveness of public-sector R&D investment can improve through better targeting of grant recipients that have higher chances of commercial success. Co-investment with venture capitalists employs their experience and knowledge to help choose R&D grant recipients, particularly in the early stages of innovation.
Co-defined technology road maps, developed through the collaboration of the public and private sectors, can help attend to multi-stakeholder perspectives, provide an integrated approach to fast-tracking technology development, identify bottlenecks, help to preempt risks, and shorten the time to market through appropriate resource mobilization.
Public procurement can be a strong driver of innovation, while at the same time raising the quality of public services in markets where the public sector is a significant buyer of goods and services.
Strategically designed public procurement programs have the potential to scale up the deployment of proven technologies and services as well as stimulate R&D for innovative solutions.
Governments could lead the way on increasing transparency because they are less affected than the private sector by competitive concerns, and they have an interest in raising awareness among the private sector and innovators about government programs and funding opportunities. Major companies - let alone smaller, innovative start-ups, - are often not aware of the many government funds and programs that are available.