Showcasing the IEA’s hidden gems

22 September 2015

Participants of the meeting about IEA-founded energy research networks.

They are the hidden gems of the International Energy Agency: global networks of energy technology researchers and experts that enable the sharing of innovations and best practices across the planet. And now, as the global transition to cleaner energy requires a kind of teamwork the world has never seen, it is time for these networks to assume a more prominent role – both within the IEA and beyond.

It was against this backdrop that policy makers and energy researchers from some 20 countries gathered this month in Paris to discuss how to expand and enhance the activities of the energy technology networks -- known formally as IEA Implementing Agreements (IAs).

Since the IEA’s creation in 1974, IAs have helped researchers share findings in more than 1 900 fields as diverse as concentrated solar powerenergy storageheat pumping and enhanced oil recovery, fostering technological breakthroughs as well as contributing data and discoveries to IEA analysis and policy recommendations. The 39 research networks currently link more than 6 000 academic, government and industry researchers from 49 countries worldwide.

In welcoming attendees to the meeting on 18 September at the IEA’s headquarters, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the Implementing Agreements were “giants of research but must evolve to assist in the indispensable acceleration of innovation in advanced energy technologies.”

The meeting drew participants from government, universities, institutes and private industry on five continents, including from key IEA partner countries such as China, South Africa and Mexico. Representatives of more than 30 IAs attended, as did top officials of the IEA and its Committee on Energy Research and Technology (CERT) as well as the Working Parties that oversee IAs. It was the first time in the 40-year history of the research networks that so many of their leaders gathered together at the IEA.

Building bridges

The networks are open to researchers from non-member countries, so are well placed to contribute to Dr. Birol’s goal of developing strong bridges between the IEA and all of the world’s major energy players. For instance, during the meeting, representatives from the Ministry of Science and Technology in China expressed continuous support of co-operation in some specific areas of research. 

IAs that already feature significant participation from non-member countries include:

  • Smart Grid Action Network, providing data and insights on effective policies, includes members from China, India, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa and Russia;
  • Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems, which includes Algeria, Brazil, China, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates;
  • Greenhouse Gas R&D, focusing on carbon capture and storage, more than half of whose membership is from the private sector, including entities located in Brazil, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, and the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries;
  • Advanced Motor Fuels, in which China is co-operating on road tests for use of natural gas and other alternatives for vehicles; and
  • Nuclear Technology Fusion Reactors, where China, India and Russia co-ordinate some of the international experiments aimed at maintaining and containing the sun-like experimental form of atomic energy.

The meeting, “Preparing the next 40 years of multilateral energy technology collaboration,” looked at ways to better promote the programme worldwide, particularly outside of IEA member countries. Participants also discussed which of their insights should be presented to governments at the IEA Ministerial meeting in November in Paris. That meeting, which will be chaired by US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, will highlight the 40 years of IEA work on technology research addressing energy and climate challenges, especially relevant as COP21 starts in Paris just weeks later.

The meeting Friday included animated discussion on rebranding of the research network system, which many participants endorsed. Other suggestions from member and non-member countries alike addressed how to increase direct IA-IEA co-operation, particularly on communications, and there were calls for more inter-IA events as well as annual workshops to advance and elaborate recommendations made at the meeting.

“We are on the verge of a new era of energy system transformation and innovation,” said Alicia Mignone, the Chair of CERT. “We need to take full opportunity of these amazing instruments that are the IEA Implementing Agreements to ensure that the IEA remains at the forefront of global energy technology analysis.”