Energy consumption and production activities contribute two-thirds of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As such, energy also has the greatest potential to help slow GHG-driven climate change, by accelerating the pace of innovation and large-scale deployment of sustainable energy technologies.
However, according to the International Energy Agency, only solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, onshore wind turbines, energy storage and electric vehicles are sufficiently mature and commercially competitive to be regarded as serious contenders in meeting climate objectives. The urgency of climate change actually requires a much wider toolkit of sustainable energy solutions that are mature enough for large-scale deployment.
This interim white paper from the World Economic Forum's initiative Partnering to Accelerate Sustainable Energy Innovation identifies the key enablers of the innovation process and proposes some ideas to achieve step-changes in the pace of sustainable energy innovation. The insights in this white paper have been gathered from Forum constituents in over 30 interviews with diverse groups of experts, literature reviews, collaboration with Mission Innovation, and a series of multi-stakeholder dialogues.
Investment in clean energy R&D is low and has been flat over the past few years. A real step-change in funding must involve both governments and the private sector. Public investment in sustainable energy R&D needs to increase its effectiveness and governments need to strength green energy policies. However, the private sector -- including energy companies, venture capitalists (VCs) and private equity firms -- is reluctant to invest in clean energy due to high risk, low return, and a long lead time to maturity in deep-tech energy solutions.
The sustainable energy innovation challenge requires a systematic and multi-stakeholder approach to help bring a broader set of new technologies to technical and commercial maturity.
This includes a variety of perspectives and disciplines such as innovation systems, transition studies, environmental and ecological economics and policies, and an enabling framework that aids productive interaction between system components. Governments and the private sector must improve complementary efforts and seize opportunities to cooperate in areas that can benefit from public-private collaboration and which neither governments nor businesses can solve on their own.
Regulatory policies, public-funding programs and innovation alliances are key catalysts necessary to accelerate the pace of innovation. Based on the review of positive examples from across different countries, the following success factors can be considered as catalysts for effective change:
These catalysts serve to create an enabling environment to foster innovation. Specific actions, however, must result from collaboration among the people who form the core of the innovation process - the inventors, entrepreneurs, corporations, investors, policy-makers and consumers.
This white paper also offers several forward-looking, bold ideas designed to help achieve step-changes in the innovation process: