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Understanding the Innovation Landscape needed for Enabling Technologies in the World’s Energy Transition

Paul Hobcraft , Agility Innovation Specialists
12 Dec, 2019
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During this September to November 2019 period, I deliberately chose to have a 100% focus on the energy transition that the world is committing to as an undertaking, of reversing the rising global climate temperatures through a shift from fossil fuels to increasing commitments to renewables.

Renewables that give us greater sustainability and clean energy and dramatic reductions in carbon emissions.

I wrote twelve dedicated posts over this period, including this one, to highlight the important place innovation has within the energy transition that we are undertaking. 

To have any chance to reverse these temperature rises there is an increasing emphasis on innovation solutions within the technology that is required for the Worlds energy system. Solutions are needed to shift from the world’s present reliance on fossil fuels to renewable cleaner fuels to stop the growing pollution and harmful effects of greenhouse gases (GHG) that carbon-emitting fossil fuels are causing to our planet and giving us global warming issues that are deeply worrying.

I drew down on many different resources to get my more in-depth understanding of an area that is partly passion and partly a business focus, but one resource has stood out for their detailed work on innovation and the energy sector’s needs.

IRENA is an excellent resource on the energy transition, especially innovation within renewables

IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and its Innovation and Technology Center, in Bonn, Germany is an intergovernmental organization that is expressly set up to support countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future. IRENA serves as the primary platform for international co-operation, be a center of excellence and a repository of policy technology, resource, and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

IRENA promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy in pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, security, and especially low-carbon growth and prosperity. It facilitates knowledge sharing and technology transfer, and here, with its emphasis on innovation’s contribution, IRENA is an excellent source of innovation understanding in the solution needs for our energy transitions.

Exploring the IRENA Innovation Landscape for Energy Transition

If you are interested in exploring the enabling technologies in different innovation landscapes, these links below will take you to specific briefs released in September 2019 on different parts of the energy system undergoing change.

IRENA’s Innovation Landscape report highlights innovations in enabling technologies and explored explicitly in the following briefs, where you go automatically to the download:

Also, IRENA produced a substantial main Innovation Landscape report.

My focus on understanding the innovation needs of the energy transition

Why did I choose to exclusively focus on different aspects of innovation within the energy transition was a simple one for me.  It needs understanding, trying to encapsulate aspects of it, to raise attention and greater understanding.

We have such a real threat of climate change and any pathway to meet the Paris Agreements is going to be a very difficult one, where all countries pledged to keep the rise of the global temperature below 2 degrees C by 2050 and ideally try to work towards the position of 1.5-degree C above pre-industrial levels. These target goals mean bringing our temperatures down dramatically.

We are presently at a very critical decision time; there is the level of investment needed to achieve this,  the current estimate to create a safe climate system is a need to invest USD 110 trillion of new investments in the energy sector by 2050.

Much of the investments need to be directed away from fossil fuels (the primary carbon emitters) into clean technologies. It is renewables, including most power generation and end-use applications that need to invest mostly through generation sources of wind, solar, hydrogen, and biofuels. This level of investment commitment will radically alter the job landscape, where energy is generated, by what means, and how it is going to be distributed, stored and consumed by us all.

Presently we are not making the essential investments we need to make. We are far to slow in Government policy in providing incentives and organizing the capital markets to raise, distribute and commit to investment levels that are necessary to make this transition.

The period 2020 to 2030 is absolutely critical for investments not just to be pledged but effectively deployed on the ground in the physical solutions and effective operation needed to make this energy transition required on track to reach the climate goals.

Innovation is critical in this energy transition.

We need to move from research and development, through engineering validation but into (multiple) pilots and then scaling solutions at speed. We do not have the luxury of evaluating these over standard lifetime returns or observing others over the years, there is the need to raise validation and take higher risks, than in more stable times. We need to be more pioneering. Without a coordinated effort, the risk is always treated cautiously without some form of guarantee or point of crisis. To date, we have not generated co-ordination in policies, collaborations, and commitments to shared risks. We have yet to fully place in the minds of everyone what the crisis is and where it is heading if we do not respond with a real sense of purpose.

Take a look at the way IRENA is breaking down the innovation dimensions in this visual that covers 30 key innovation dimensions that will drive energy transitions across enabling technologies, new business models, different market designs, and system operation.


Source: IRENA and its Innovation Landscape Briefs.

The Emission Gap is getting bigger, not smaller

I was reading a recent report, Emissions Gap Report 2019, by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently releases. The summary findings are bleak. Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.

The Emissions Gap Report has been produced annually since 2010. This is the UNEP flagship report that assesses the gap between anticipated emission levels in 2030 and levels consistent with a 2°C/1.5°C temperature targets that are was fully agreed as the goals in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The 2019 report provides the first-ever estimate of annual cuts needed to stay on track with the Paris Agreement. The report emphasizes that the levels of ambition in the Nationally Determined Contributions must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5°C goal and threefold for the 2°C goal.

The report concludes “that, while challenging, climate change can still be limited to 1.5°C if sufficient momentum can be generated to take advantage of technologies to support the energy transition; increased understanding of additional benefits of climate action in terms of health and the economy; and abundant examples of ambitious efforts from governments, cities, businesses and investors, “and the pressure and will to implement them”

The UNEP report states emissions have to fall now and drop 7.6% every year from 2020, and that needs a fivefold commitment in by all involved. So if we do not accept this growing crisis and start now, we will not achieve a world where temperatures take us beyond

The G20 countries emit 78% of all emissions; primarily, it is in their hands to make these deep commitments. Also, we must not lose sight of those developing countries. These countries need to look to “leapfrog” into renewables and all the associated technologies of storage, batteries, and power generation (hydro, hydrogen, wind, solar, and biomass) that gives them not just energy security but energy potential to advance their economies. The G20 countries has huge legacy issues to tackle; many will end up as well described in this article by Joel Makower, Chairman & Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group on  “stranded assets.”

In Summary

We require bold leaders, policymakers, institutions, researchers, engineers, and innovators to combine, coordinate, and commit to making the energy transition happen.

So for me,  the energy transition is at the forefront of “cutting edge” innovation to deliver. For this reason, it is why I have given this my 100% attention in the past few months to understand, investigate, research, and become even more fully immersed in it.

Coming out of this intense period, I feel really far more conversant in the energy transition and its complexity. This understanding covers both its issues and barriers but also its opportunities and magnitude. It raises even more where I can contribute wherever possible through my focus on innovation, as it is pivotal to future energy transition solutions.

I firmly believe the energy transition needs all the help and attention it can get from all aspects and contributions. For all of us, being aware is a vital step to the recognition we are in a race against time to reverse the climate damage occurring, on a seemingly daily basis. Energy solutions, based on renewables and carbon sequestration are critical to this.

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