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Highlights

Innovation is an uncertain and competitive process in which technologies eventually pass through four stages: prototype, demonstration, early adoption and maturity. Size, modularity and synergies with other technologies are all attributes that determine the speed with which technologies pass through these stages. Governments have a particularly central and wide-ranging role to play in this process that goes far beyond the provision of funds for R&D.

Four stages of technology innovation, feedbacks and spillovers that improve successive generations of designs

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Four stages
Four stages of technology innovation, feedbacks and spillovers that improve successive generations of designs
Four stages

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Achieving net-zero emission targets depends on strong and targeted R&D and innovation efforts in critical technologies. In the Sustainable Development Scenario, almost 35% of the cumulative CO2 emissions reductions by 2070 compared with the Stated Policies Scenario come from technologies that are currently at the prototype or demonstration phase which will not become available at scale without further R&D. About 40% of the cumulative emissions reductions rely on technologies that have not yet been commercially deployed in mass‑market applications.

Global energy sector CO2 emissions reductions by current technology maturity category in the Sustainable Development Scenario relative to the Stated Policies Scenario, 2019-2070

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The Faster Innovation Case examines what would be needed in terms of even faster progress in clean energy technology innovation to deliver net-zero emissions globally by 2050 rather than 2070. CO2 savings from technologies currently at the prototype or demonstration stage would be around 75% higher in 2050 than in the Sustainable Development Scenario, and about 45% of all emissions savings in 2050 would come from technologies that have not yet been commercially deployed, even on a very limited basis. 

Share of global energy sector CO2 emissions reductions in 2050 by maturity category and scenario

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Relative increase in CO2 emissions savings in 2050 by current technology maturity category, Faster Innovation Case relative to the Sustainable Development Scenario

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A transition to net-zero emissions as in the Faster Innovation Case would further amplify the required pace and scale of technological change. The power sector would need to decarbonise sooner while generating additional electricity of nearly 20 000 TWh in 2050 relative to the Sustainable Development Scenario (a 35% increase) to support higher electricity demand, including higher need for hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Average annual renewable capacity additions to 2050 would be 770 GW, almost 50% above the Sustainable Development Scenario. Additional demand for alternative fuels would be almost 20% higher: hydrogen demand would rise by more than 50%, requiring nearly 50 GW of additional electrolyser capacity each year. 

Selected decarbonisation indicators by scenario in 2050

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Most of the additional decarbonisation effort in the Faster Innovation Case comes from electrification (accounting for 35% of additional emission cuts in 2050), CCUS (more than 25%) and bioenergy (more than 20%). In addition, the use of low-carbon hydrogen accounts for 30% of the additional emissions reduction from heavy industry.