A Global Review of Patent Data for Smart Grid Technologies

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About this report

The clean energy transition increases electricity demand and requires more wind and solar power, stressing power grids. Smart grid technologies can manage this transition, reduce the need for costly new infrastructure, and improve grid resilience and reliability. Understanding innovation in the area enables informed decision-making for policymakers and investors. This report draws upon the analysis of The European Patent Office (EPO) PATSTAT patents database which provides a highly valuable source of information to quantify innovation. It analyses trends in smart grid technology innovation, detailing the timing, locations, and subsectors of these advancements. By examining innovation at the city level it uncovers the geographical model of smart grid innovation. Additionally, this report measures smart grids specialisation using metrics developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), such as the Revealed Technology Advantage (RTA) to understand if a country specialises in certain technologies related to the rest of the world. Furthermore, it evaluates patent quality using OECD-developed measures such as originality and patent claims.

Executive summary

In the pursuit of a cleaner energy sector, smart grid technologies are pivotal in modernising a consistently overloaded grid. In this report we focus on analysing trends in smart grid technology innovation, showcasing where, when and in which subsectors innovation is occurring and revealing specialisation and patent quality within the sector.

2011 saw a peak in smart grid innovation with 2 000 unique inventions produced, representing 11% of power sector innovations. Following a period of decline, the relative share of smart grid innovations increased to 13% in 2022, aligning with the trajectory of the IEA Net Zero by 2050 Scenario.

In 2020 technologies related to monitoring or controlling equipment for energy generation units and supporting power network operation or management collectively accounted for 41% of total smart grid patent registrations – the largest share among all smart grid categories. This increased share may be linked to the rising capital investment in power equipment during recent years.

In recent years, East Asia (mainly Japan and China) has dominated smart grid innovation, accounting for over half of the total. Since 2007 it has consistently held the top position among regions. North America (mainly the United States) and Western Europe (mainly Germany) together share the remaining smart grid inventions.

In the last two decades, there has been a transition from Europe and the Americas being the primary sources of smart grid innovation to Asia taking on a more prominent role in this field.

More than 40% of smart grid innovation is happening in ten cities around the world, showcasing a concentrated innovation model. The top metropolitan areas for innovation between 2000 and 2022 were Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Nagoya, Nuremberg and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Europe emerges as a hub for smart grid technology specialisation, as shown by the Revealed Technological Advantage (RTA). Conversely, Japan, the United States and China exhibit lower RTAs, suggesting that despite their considerable innovation endeavours in smart grids, they lack a distinct specialisation in this particular field of innovation.

Although family size has decreased in smart grid inventions in more recent years, showing that inventors choose to protect their inventions in fewer offices, patent claims have increased since 2009. Patent claims typically suggest increased market value, indicating a trend towards more valuable inventions in more recent years.