Today the International Energy Agency (IRA) released a long-awaited update on where innovation needs to be in the energy transition we are undergoing.
At their own admission, it has been three years since they (IEA) released its last Energy Technology Perspective (ETP) report. Although they argue they have been reflecting on the critical technology challenges, it is way overdue.
In this new report, “Energy Technology perspective: Special Report on Clean Energy Innovation” released today, 2nd July 2020, they have developed some improved modeling tools to bring a higher capacity to answer key technology questions in greater detail. This is good news.
IEA will further follow up later this year with a flagship ETP 2020 publication later in the year to keep a tighter and more consistent focus on the role and need of innovation to accelerate clean energy transitions.
They, the IEA are planning an IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit really soon to convene ministers and CEO’s to the aim of driving economic development by this more robust focus on clean, resilient, and inclusive energy systems.
The IEA is suggesting they are is in the midst of a modernization agenda to keep them at the forefront of sustainable and clean energy transitions globally. They need to become a more significant focal point for reliable and leading-edge advice.
They put it starkly, the realization is simply that the energy sector will only reach net-zero emissions if there is a significant and concerted global push to accelerate the need for the innovation part of the energy transition.
The IEA sees (a growing) disconnect between climate goals of Government and Companies that they have set for themselves and all the concerted efforts needed in the innovative efforts underway to develop better and cheaper technologies to realize their goals.
We have recently been hearing that we have “all the technologies now we need to get on with it.” This, in my view, is partly right, we know where to put the efforts, but the abrupt step change we need to scale, re-engineer and develop these technologies and the delivery mechanisms (infrastructure, policy changes) are massive. We are losing sight of this.
The “drag and resistance to change” is significant. This needs resolving quickly to deliver a decarbonized world.
If we take the example of Hydrogen. When solutions and policies that have recently been emerging around Hydrogen from a European perspective,e they have been proposing a clear focus on green hydrogen as the focal point.
Green hydrogen is based on renewables and the significant deployment and use of electrolysis that makes it the clean energy solution (vector) as the Government policy focal point, we then get significant vested parties pushing back hard. There is the intense push back of the suppliers of blue solutions offering carbon capture and storage as equally necessary in any policy and funding from any change in EU and Germany energy policy decisions. The argument is we need bridging solutions to any transition. There is a lot of merit in this argument.
Then we get those industries established on grey hydrogen, which is a significant greenhouse emitter, pushing even further back, claiming the ability to switch hydrogen from fossil fuels to clean is many years away. We are entering the geopolitics of hydrogen, can we afford this?
The dizzy array of solutions on offer needs validating for the pathway to fast decarbonization.
What we do need is the fastest transition through all means possible the low carbon options, but the lock-in risks in investments and where we deflect our research and development take us further out into the future if we need to achieve these net-zero emissions.
The rapid evolution of the dizzy array of solutions is one that all economies, especially the emerging economies, have to be very aware of this “lock-in effect if they chose the wrong transformation pathway.
The technology mix to decarbonize each economy and industry reliant on secure and resilient energy sources is a tough one. It is organizations like the IEA that need to be turned too for the best advice, not specific solution providers pushing their solutions on a narrow pathway of their focus.
The IEA, by rethinking how they re-designate technology innovation, makes for a substantial shift.
The major shift outlined in this report, released on July 2nd, 2020, regroups the policy measures by families of key technologies based on similar technology attributes.
To quote from the report: “Within each of these families, knowledge and application spillovers hold significant potential to accelerate innovation if linkages are exploited: against this background, the section provides some concrete suggestions for action for each family of technologies to help policymakers to integrate tailored approaches for priority technology areas into overall strategies.”
- Electrochemistry: modular cells for converting between electricity and chemicals.
- CO2 capture: processes to separate CO2 from industrial and power sector emissions or the air.
- Heating and cooling: efficient and flexible designs for electrification.
- Catalysis: more efficient industrial processes for converting biomass and CO2 to products.
- Lightweighting: lighter materials and their integration in wind energy and vehicles.
- Digital: integration of data and communication to make energy systems flexible and efficient.
The list above is not intended to be exhaustive. Still, it covers the types of solutions that hold the most promise for advancing value chains involving electrification, hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels, CCUS, and bioenergy.”
To further quote from the report: “Among the other technologies that all have important roles to play in achieving net-zero emissions are large, scientifically complex technologies such as nuclear, including small modular nuclear reactors, and small-scale, consumer-led technologies such as flexible or buildings-integrated solar PV or high-efficiency motors.
In between these extremes lie geological technologies to enhance geothermal energy, hydrogen storage, or CO2 storage, as well as such high-potential areas as ocean energy, prefabricated net-zero energy building envelopes, and thermal and mechanical energy storage.”
This report is a timely update as our new technology innovation focal point.
Without a major acceleration in clean energy innovation, the net-zero ambitions on emissions will simply not be achieved.
The mix of many technology innovative solutions needs not just further discovery, it needs translating into scalable solutions. The “stark disconnect” of the “walk and the talk” around net-zero needs significant resolution. The IEA, through updating and giving innovation the central focal point for our need to deliver clean energy technologies.
Do please find time to work through the report. It is critical to grasp the role of innovation within the energy transition. What is certain is we have been not giving this the appropriate attention it needs in resourcing, exploring, and maturing present as well as future solutions, we will clearly need to get us to a decarbonized world.
We need to accelerate transitions towards clean, resilient, and inclusive energy systems, and that comes from putting integrated clean energy innovation into the heart of energy policies and solution needs.