Innovating our way to a carbon-free 22nd Century
The reaction to the recent agreement between G7 leaders to phase out fossil fuel use by the end of this century was generally very positive, with some environmental campaigners hailing the move as historic. But others were more cautiously optimistic, pointing out that the commitment was short on specifics about how the end-of-century goal would be met.
This got me thinking about the Energy Technology Perspectives 2015 report issued by the International Energy Agency back in May. The report’s focus is the 2°C Scenario (2DS). This scenario describes an energy system consistent with an emissions trajectory that research indicates would give an 80% chance of limiting average global temperature increase to 2°C. The report points out that progress on clean energy solutions is currently falling well short of the levels needed to develop that system.
Innovation needs a helping hand
However, the report offers a solution: “The development and deployment of new, ground-breaking energy technologies is key to mobilizing climate action” according to the press release that accompanied the report.
But – and this is something I know very well as head of Novozymes Bioenergy R&D – the development and deployment of innovative technologies doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the report recognizes this. It highlights the central role governments must play in supporting the innovation needed to meet global emissions reduction targets. Specifically, it calls on them to address barriers including:
- economic and policy uncertainty
- inadequate risk management,
- unbalanced collaboration
- knowledge protection
Five steps to energy decarbonization
The report makes the following five high-level recommendations to energy ministers:
- Develop a vision for a clean energy future with sector- and technology-specific actions and targets. Ensure support continues beyond technology development to address policy and market barriers.
- Enact stable policies to reduce investors’ risk, thereby easing access to finance. Consider policy frameworks that support new business models (such as energy contracting or green bonds) that can help attract investors to areas that face financing challenges.
- Include the expected progress on clean energy technologies in future emissions reduction ambitions in international negotiations, considering anticipated performance improvements and cost reductions of existing technologies, as well as future technologies that will be deployed through continued innovation.
- Make private and public support measurable with technology-specific indicators to track progress on development and deployment complemented by sector-specific metrics in the power, buildings, industry and transport sectors. Ensure support for all phases of RDD&D to foster both incremental and radical innovation.
- Support actions in emerging economies. OECD countries should design RDD&D strategies to address the needs of emerging economies, thereby benefiting technology suppliers and recipients and contributing to the decarbonization of global energy systems.
This last point is especially relevant as – in the 2DS – emerging economies’ uptake of innovative processes accounts for almost three-quarters of worldwide direct industrial CO2 emissions reduction in 2050. So it’s heartening to see many emerging economies taking policy action to support their emergent biofuels industries. China, for example, is looking to move to a 10 percent biofuels mandate by 2020, and nine provinces – including Heilongjian, Jilin, Liaoning, Anhui, and Henan – already require a 10% ethanol blend.
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