Blog Post

IEA: Energy Innovation Needs More Public Support

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Global investments in renewable energy have risen dramatically over the last decade, but governments need to step up support for clean energy innovation. That’s one of the findings in a report out on Wednesday from the International Energy Agency.

The IEA’s Clean Energy Progress Report, released ahead of an international meeting of government energy leaders this week in Abu Dhabi, notes that countries have spent $17 billion on renewable energy and energy efficiency research during the last 10 years — less than a third of the $56 billion directed to nuclear energy research. As much as $22 billion has gone toward fossil fuel research during the same period.

A marked shift occurred in 2009, when governments recognized “that clean energy is a driving force for economic recovery.” Public sector investments in energy research and development “rose to its highest level ever, eclipsing the previous high achieved during the oil crisis of the 1970s.” But as stimulus programs petered out, spending levels for 2010 fell to close to 2008 levels.

If countries are going to meet clean energy and carbon reduction targets (not to mention the larger goals of sustainable and affordable energy) they will need to adopt a longer view, says IEA. “Higher spending levels must be sustained over the long term and spending priorities need to shift,” the agency writes, away from nuclear and fossil fuels, and toward renewables and efficiency. Fossil fuels in 2009 received $312 billion in consumption subsidies, compared to $57 billion for renewable energy. Clean energy ministers, according to IEA, should provide incentives for private sector investments in energy projects, using tax credits, “innovative public/private partnerships,” and “market-creating mechanisms.”

IEA says fossil fuel subsidies ought to be “phased out,” and governments should establish a price for carbon emissions, which are two ideas that face significant obstacles in Washington. Today’s report comes on the heels of a 2012 budget proposal from House Republicans that promises to continue tax benefits for oil companies while cutting “government bureaucracies seeking to impose a job-destroying national energy tax,” as well as spending on “applied and commercial [energy] research or development projects best left to the private sector,” as Greenwire reports.

The IEA, meanwhile, emphasizes a need for cooperation between the public and private sectors, and for support that goes beyond tax breaks or grants. The agency urges governments to clear “non-economic barriers” for renewable energy research, development, demonstration and deployment, which can range from administrative burdens to the somewhat nebulous challenge of public acceptance and awareness. The agency also calls for governments to “facilitate the uptake of clean energy technologies into energy systems by supporting integration of technologies such as smart grids,” and to guarantee specific levels of support for different technologies that would decrease as they become more competitive.

The right combination of policies and could deliver nothing short of “a clean energy revolution,” says the IEA. For examples, the agency points to Denmark’s successful cultivation of biomass and wind since the 1980s, and to China’s leap to achieve three times the installed wind power capacity of India in just five years.

You can check out the full report here.