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Accelerating Sustainable Energy Innovation

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation & Energy Knowledge Provider Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

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  • Jan 25, 2023
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Source: Unesco-harnessing-ai-innovation-to-accelerate-sustainability-for-the-planet

Over this weekend, I spent a fair amount of reading time working through the World Economic Forum Whitepapers I have collected to remind me of this incredible source of knowledge across many world issues and challenges, grasping the risks, potentials and value opportunities discussed in these papers.

These reports (Whitepapers) are a storehouse of knowledge, facts and suggested actions that need to be taken. The Whitepapers found here cover Climate issues, Green Deal views, Resilience, Circular Transformation, Global Value Chains, Electricity views, Securing the Energy Transition and plenty more.

For me, the weekend focus was specifically on the Energy Transition, following on from their recent Davos event and the series of reports and whitepapers co-sponsored with different organizations built up over many years.

One whitepaper I took some time to find more time to re-read. It was from a white paper “Accelerating Sustainable Energy Innovation, released in May 2018 and prepared in collaboration with KPMG.

Why is this whitepaper a timely one for me to relook at? It looks at the Energy Innovation (eco)system

As stated in the opening to this paper, “Sustainable energy innovation is at the heart of solving many of the world’s toughest challenges and is the key to tapping the full potential of energy as a contributor to future growth and prosperity.”

If we do not give significant attention to building the capabilities for robust innovation systems, the energy transition will fail. Innovation feeds the changes, it needs to accelerate, it needs a sustainable system, and it needs dedicated expertise and capacity and capabilities in building out as a specialised group. My area of focus.

We are in deep trouble in moving towards the Energy Transition targets laid out by the original Paris Agreement.

Energy innovation systems need a really much stronger and more effective push to deliver a broad range of technologies and solutions to the market faster than what is happening today.

The importance of accelerating innovation in sustainable energy – across the many ways energy is produced, delivered and consumed – is undervalued, slow to be adopted by many, and continually underinvested compared to the challenges at hand. We are not investing in a greater and more robust innovation system of capabilities, capacities and competencies from discovery to implementation.

We seemingly got blocked in experiments, pilots, or simply waiting for others to scale and prove the new solutions available commercially. The Energy Industry can be deemed as a laggard in adoption along the five stages of technology adoption. Having a robust, sustainable innovation system to install and then follow is essential. Innovation drives the changes in the Energy transition.

If we take the suggested Energy Innovation System outlined in this Whitepaper.

Here it is rightly suggested that it is people, the innovation process and the catalysts all combine to enable this system framework. I like this as it provides the (basic) stages with the process goes through and this, from many an energy perspective, is a long time, between 12 to 60 months sometimes due to the technology proving, from the bench, experiment to pilot and the appropriate adoption and scaling. It also brings in the technical readiness levels; this within itself is a process from a catalyst of an idea, experimentation, failure and re-evaluation—a continuous loop between discovery and delivery.

Within any mix of innovation, we not only have the inventors and researchers who explore, combine ideas and test new and existing technologies to come to new points of breakthrough innovation, but we also have the influencers of politicians, who set guidelines and policies, can provide public money while the ongoing search is for scientists and academics that offer the skills within the different stages of this pipeline from basic and applied research, development and then demonstration.

Then you have the mix of entrepreneurs, universities, research institutes and national labs looking to work hand-in-hand as this progresses. Investors, SMEs, institutions, Corporations, and Financial experts all get progressively drawn in to provide their expertise.

The suggestion in the whitepaper is, it is clearly the human element that makes the system work, applying and sharing lessons learnt and then getting to “ultimate” decision makers, those taking the commercial risks and then the ultimate customer in the marketplace.

I also liked their visual on the barriers to the energy innovation system

Primary barriers to sustainable innovation in the Energy Transition

What is recommended within this whitepaper is the step changes to accelerate sustainable energy innovation by recognizing the barriers, constraints, and, more importantly, the whole Ecosystem of people involved in the process, each playing a catalytic role.

As the energy transition requires real step-changes, the collaborative effort, the need for an Energy Ecosystem approach to allow multiple stakeholders to become engaged, and the suggested adoption of these approaches make so much sense.

Suggested supporting mechanisms for accelerating innovation in Energy

These suggestions are far from exhaustive, but they make the critical point that investment in the structures from multiple collaborators, forming networks to co-create and coordinate and find agreement for resolving challenges and providing potential solutions to keep moving forward the innovations within the system:

  1. Create institutions for energy innovation- stewarding investments
  2. Establish an independent international fund to finance energy technology projects, blending public and private sources of capital to test ideas, incubate them and pilot them from seed investments to long-term capital stages to scale, share risks and openly champion projects.
  3. Develop instruments for public-private co-investment to reduce uncertainty, time-lags, keeping eligibility in tandem with progressing the innovation through the pipeline
  4. Co-define energy technology roadmaps through public-private collaboration can offer a more integrated approach to fast-track and monitor progress and quickly identify bottlenecks where diversity in supply chains, materials used, components to be sourced etc, can be identified earlier.
  5. Mainstream public procurement of pre-commercial energy innovation to assist early-stage forward-looking technologies and allow for experiments from competitive providers.
  6. Super-transparency of government RD&D spending as the energy transition is a globally shared concern, allowing a raising of awareness, research progress and funding opportunities.

The whitepaper outlines the context.

The World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Energy aimed to accelerate the development of the policies, private-sector actions and public-private collaboration required to achieve a sustainable, affordable, secure and inclusive energy future essential for economic and social development.

Partnering to Accelerate Sustainable Energy Innovation is a project initiated within this system initiative following the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017 in Davos.

The project’s goal was to identify and promote actions that the global community can take to accelerate
the pace of innovation in sustainable energy and, in parallel, serve as a platform for collaboration
among stakeholders from business, government, civil society and selected innovation alliances who share a vision for a sustainable future.

From this platform rose the collaboration between the World Economic Forum and Mission Innovation, an alliance of 22 governments and the EU representing 80% of global clean energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D), who joined forces to accelerate sustainable energy innovation.

Ecosystems, platforms, technology, and people must combine for this catalytic effect.

For me, coming back to focus on this accelerating sustainable energy innovation makes real sense. I wonder if this Whitepaper progressed in its suggestions, partly in establishing its suggested approaches but in further developing and establishing the Innovation Framework presented above.

The Energy Transition is vital to our future on this planet, to have a habitable environment; not having innovation as a system core for this is a tragic mistake. Let’s rectify that, can we?

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Paul Hobcraft's picture
Thank Paul for the Post!
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