Technology Innovation

Case Study from IIASA Annual Report 2011: 

Research examined the promotion of innovative energy technologies and investment to support the transition from fossil fuels to improved efficiency of energy use and renewable energy sources by 2050.

Research into innovative energy technologies and investment was one of the major themes of the recently launched Global Energy Assessment (GEA). The research for GEA Chapter 24 on Policies for Energy Technology Innovation Systems (ETIS) was coordinated by Arnulf Grubler of IIASA’s Transitions to New Technologies (TNT) Program and included a team of 20 authors, many IIASA alumni or former participants in IIASA’s Young Scientists Summer Program. Alongside a comprehensive literature review, the chapter also reports on new research performed by the writing team including the new conceptual systemic innovation model ETIS, 20 detailed case studies of technology policy successes and failures, and the first-ever comprehensive quantification of worldwide investments in energy technology innovation over all technology life cycle stages, across the full spectrum of energy supply and energy end-use technologies, and by both public and private sectors.

A commercial book on the case studies is being prepared for Cambridge University Press, and summary papers have been accepted for publication in the high-level journals Nature Climate Change and Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

The research confirms that for technological innovation to fully support the transition to sustainable energy use, two predominant policy changes are needed:

  • First, there must be an appropriate incentive environment for innovation adoption and phase-out of outdated technology vintages to complement traditional public
    sector R&D policies.
  • Second, the critical importance of energy end-use technologies must be much better
    reflected in R&D budgets and market deployment incentives.

The assessment also identifies the need for improved international coordination in technology research, given that the emerging economies are now outstripping traditional OECD countries in terms of energy technology R&D and investments.

GEA Chapter 24 introduces the new concept of technological “granularity,” emphasizing the importance of multiple, “small” (locally adapted), diverse solutions to problems even at the global scale, rather than single, large-scale, planetary solutions like  geo-engineering or single-design nuclear fusion reactors. “Granular” technologies reduce the innovation and financial risks per project and allow significantly more experimentation and learning to take place compared to traditional, capital-intensive energy innovation projects.

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Last edited: 19 July 2013

IIASA Annual Report 2011

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