Innovation Gaps

Key long-term technology challenges for research, development and demonstration

Buildings

Transitioning to high-performance buildings by 2030 will require technical innovation to meet the energy needs of a variety of building types in multiple regions. Innovation is particularly needed to raise investment returns for high-performance building envelope technologies, taking energy prices, labour costs and the nature of the building design or retrofits into account.

Data centres & networks

Demand for data centre and data transmission network services is expected to continue to grow strongly over the next decade. Innovation will be critical to ensuring that energy efficiency gains continue to keep overall energy demand in check.

Why is this gap important?

Global internet protocol (IP) traffic is increasing rapidly, and is expected to triple by 2022. This traffic is increasingly shifting to wireless and mobile: wireless and mobile devices expected to account for more than 70% of traffic by 2022, up from around half in 2018.

This shift toward greater use of mobile networks may have significant implications for energy use, given the considerably higher electricity intensities (kWh/GB) of mobile networks compared with fixed-line networks at current traffic rates.

Technology solutions

4G networks, which are around 50 times more energy efficient than 2G, are already widely deployed (TRL 11).

The first commercial 5G networks (and devices) will start rolling out in 2019 (TRL 9), which is widely expected to be around 10 times more efficient than 4G.

Why is this gap important?

Demand for data centre services is expected to continue to grow strongly after 2020, and data centre energy use will continue to be largely determined by the pace of energy efficiency gains. While the continued shift to efficient cloud and hyperscale data centres will reduce the energy intensity of data centre services, applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to tap further efficiency gains may become increasingly important.

Technology solutions

AI for data centre infrastructure management (TRL 8) can reduce the energy used by cooling infrastructure and power supply infrastructure.

AI for resource management (TRL 7) can improve servers workload optimisation, manage disk utilisation, and manage network congestion.

What are the leading initiatives?


Building envelopes

Boosting construction of high-performance buildings by 2030 will require innovative technical solutions and business models to meet the energy needs of a variety of building types in multiple regions. Innovation is also needed to improve investment returns for high-performance building technologies, taking energy prices, labour costs and the nature of the building design or retrofits into account.

Why is this gap important?

Airtightness is a strong determinant of energy demand in buildings. In cold climates, exfiltration through the building envelope accounts for a significant share of a building's thermal losses. Infiltration of cold air can also cause mould and lead to material degradation, which affects the health of occupants and the lifetime of the building.

Proper control of air flows and ventilation is even more important in hot climates to keep buildings healthy and comfortable. Enhanced building designs can allow natural ventilation and maintain comfortable temperatures without mechanical assistance. Ventilation systems can also help keep buildings healthy by removing indoor air pollutants and controlling the thermal environment.

Technology solutions

Advanced solutions to control air flows have already been commercialised in most markets (TRL 8) but need to be promoted and improved for greater market uptake. Further product innovation and cost reductions are required for several technologies in particular:

  • aerosol sealing for new buildings and retrofitting of old ones
  • advanced foam and aerosol products such as a synthetic acryl sealant that can be sprayed or rolled on to automatically find and seal cracks
  • advanced air-sealing techniques and validation tools
  • thermal detectors.


Why is this gap important?

Windows are estimated to be responsible for 5‑10% of total energy consumed in buildings – and even higher for certain buildings (e.g. with all-glass facades). Highly insulated windows have great potential to reduce energy consumption in new buildings and in structural retrofits.

Maximising/minimising solar gains (depending on the region) can significantly reduce heating/cooling demand, especially in buildings with considerable glass. Optimising visible light transmittance can reduce lighting energy demand.

Technology solutions

High-performance windows have already been commercialised in some markets (TRL 6). However, global adoption remains uneven, and even when commercialised, they often remain a niche market. Further energy efficiency gains can also be made. Over the next five years, governments, industries and researchers should focus on key R&D priorities to increase the energy performance of windows:

  • Develop low-cost advanced materials with U-values of 0.6 watts per square metre times degrees Kelvin (W/m2K) or below.
  • Improve manufacturing processes and identify cost-effective installation techniques.
  • Focus on vacuum glazing technologies to enhance thermal performance.
  • Develop dynamic glazing with variable Solar Heat Gain Coefficients (SHGCs) of between 0.08 and 0.65.
  • Further develop electrochromic windows.
  • Devise low-cost films for on-site improvement of glazing performance. 

Why is this gap important?

Integrated storage and renewable energy technologies for buildings (e.g. pairing clean energy production with local storage and energy use) can address multiple climate change mitigation objectives at once. One such solution is thermal energy storage, which can displace cooling and heating demand while also enabling higher penetration of variable renewable sources in the energy system. Integrated renewables (e.g. on a building's facade) can also enable greater energy production, as the related area usually is much larger than rooftop space.

Technology solutions

Integrated solutions are diverse and at different stages of deployment. Thermal energy storage technologies include sensible, latent and thermochemical storage. Phase-change materials are a key type of latent thermal storage. Thermal storage innovation is needed mainly to reduce costs, make systems more compact, raise the thermal conductivity of materials, and find new materials – especially fluids – that can transfer or store heat according to a building’s needs.

Integrating renewable energy sources at the level demonstrated in the SDS will require further development and commercialisation of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). BIPV makes up 70% of solar PV capacity additions to 2030 in the SDS. Other renewable energy sources equally need further R&D attention for large-scale commercialisation, including building-integrated wind turbines, hybrid solar wind systems, adaptive solar facades and solar roof tiles.

What are the leading initiatives?

Leading initiatives and examples of high-performance building envelopes include: work being led by Climate-KIC’s Building Technology Accelerator; the ETH Zurich House of Natural Resources; the Copenhagen International School (CIS); and Tesla’s Solar Roof.

Lighting

Although the shift to solid-state lighting (SSL) products is gaining momentum, LED technologies have not yet reached maturity. There are still innovation gaps that make it challenging to continue improving the efficacy of LEDs (to exceed 160 lm/W by 2030), develop the best regulation metrics (with respect to energy performance and light quality), and ensure that smart lamps and luminaires generate energy savings.

Why is this gap important?

Closing the technical gaps for SSL sources and components can not only increase the efficacy of lighting products, but also ensure they provide high-quality light at prices that are competitive with the less-efficient, older technologies (such as fluorescent, halogen and incandescent lamps). Clear policy guidelines on quality and performance are therefore needed for SSL improvements.

Technology solutions

The Solid-State Lighting (SSL) Annex of the IEA Energy Efficient End-use Equipment Technology Collaboration Programme (4E TCP) maintains a set of quality and performance tiers offering guidance on efficiency, lifetime, colour, performance, health and environmental aspects for several common lamps and luminaires. These guidelines are currently being updated.

Why is this gap important?

Smart lamps and luminaires could significantly reduce electricity consumption for lighting by adjusting to daylight levels, room occupancy and interactions with building energy management systems. However, the additional energy used for network communications and rebound effects may offset these savings if clean energy policies and technologies do not provide appropriate solutions for growing consumer expectations.

What are the leading initiatives?

The IEA 4E TCP’s SSL Annex is also studying smart LED lamps and luminaires. It assesses their functions as well as the energy consumption associated with the circuits that provide smart features. The objective is to ensure that overall energy savings do, indeed, result from these innovations in addition to the improved, flexible services they provide to consumers.

Why is this gap important?

Policy makers need robust and relevant metrics to set appropriate quality and performance requirements. With the transition to SSL, some of the lighting metrics have become outdated and are no longer the best for determining policy measures. For example, the ‘colour rendering index’ (CRI) metric was developed in the 1930s and uses an incandescent lamp spectral output as its reference source. This means that lamps mimicking incandescent light output will score 100 and other spectral outputs that have been judged more visually appealing score lower.

Technology solutions

In a position statement of October 2015, the Commission internationale de l’éclairage (CIE) stated that “with the rapid update of LED lighting, which has greater freedom in spectral design, the need to update the CRI has significantly increased. For some types of light sources, the CIE General Colour Rendering Index, Ra, does not agree well with overall perceived colour rendering.

What are the leading initiatives?

The IEA 4E TCP’s SSL Annex is currently evaluating the usefulness of the new colour metrics to find the best ones for new lighting policy measures. In addition to colour, the Annex is investigating the new test methods and metrics for measuring parameters used to define white light, lifetime tests, colour consistency, standby power, temporal light artefacts and dimming standards. Evaluating the usefulness of these new metrics will help policy makers devise new and updated lighting regulations, ensuring that the best metrics are incorporated into the regulatorymeasures.

Appliances & equipment

Technology already exists and is readily available to improve the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. Conventional policy measures can be employed to drive markets to adopt these more efficient technologies and put appliances and equipment on track with the SDS.

Innovation remains important to achieve mass deployment of products with even higher efficiency. Technology improvements include vacuum-insulated panels for refrigerators, heat pump technology for tumble dryers and improved silicon for electronic equipment. Innovation will also be required to continue reducing the cost of manufacturing equipment while improving energy efficiency and related performance. Furthermore, to take advantage of digitalisation benefits, consumer-friendly energy management tools are needed for smart appliances and equipment.

Why is this gap important?

In 2018, global electricity use by residential refrigerators and freezers was around 500 TWh and is expected to rise a further 35% by 2050. The efficiency of residential refrigerators can be doubled through known technology, such as using more insulation (though noticeably reducing useful internal space) and better compressors. The use of effective vacuum-insulated panels (VIPs), however, would raise energy efficiency while also increasing internal refrigerator volume (for the same external area), providing better service for consumers.

Technology solutions

Current status: TRL 9

VIPs are already commercially available in some commercial and residential refrigeration appliances.

Key challenges: 

  • Ensuring robust longevity of the panels, which will need to last for up to 20 years.
  • Reducing the high initial cost, which is a significant barrier to market uptake.
  • Ramping up production capacity to meet demand and help reduce costs through learning.

What are the leading initiatives?

The technology is well developed, with many major manufacturers able to use it already. It is likely that this technology will reach high-value sectors first, such as healthcare and commercial refrigeration, where space savings and low thermal losses are important.

The Technology Collaboration Programme on Energy Efficient End-use Equipment (4E TCP) will also be tracking refrigerator technology as part of its new PEET (Policy Energy Efficiency Trends) Annex.

Recommended actions over the next five years

  • Manufacturers should improve VIP robustness and reduce VIP costs
  • Governments should provide incentives or development prizes (though ideally technology neutral specification)

Why is this gap important?

Tumble dryers use a considerable amount of energy when in operation – globally energy consumption is approaching 100 TWh annually and is expected to more than triple by 2050 as ownership and use expand. Heat pump technology is therefore important, as it can significantly improve tumble dryer energy efficiency.

Technology solutions

Current status: TRL-9

The technology has been developed over the last 20 years, and many major appliance manufacturers are able to use it. However, the current cost of the technology means it cannot compete with traditional tumble dryers, especially at the point of purchase.

Although heat pumps are usually more expensive to purchase, for most householders it is repaid by the significantly lower running costs (typically half of a traditional tumble dryer). As this technology can pay for itself (in higher-use situations, usually in colder climates), policy can encourage market demand, which in turn will stimulate manufacturers to innovate and develop new lower cost appliances, which in turn will offer greater choice and availability. Where electricity prices are low or tumble dryer usage is minimal, governments may need to use other incentive mechanisms (for manufacturers or for consumers, working with manufacturers) to increase uptake.

What are the leading initiatives?

  • To overcome this up-front cost issue, Switzerland has set its MEPS at a level that requires heat pump technology in all newly sold tumble dryers.
  • The 4E TCP will be tracking tumble dryer technology as part of its new Policy Energy Efficiency Trends (PEET) Annex.

Recommended actions over the next 5 years

  • Manufacturers should reduce the cost of heat pump tumble dryers
  • Governments should provide incentives to ramp up sales in the short term (through ideally technology neutral specifications) and introduce MEPS to mandate the technology (as done in Switzerland)
Heat pumps

Heat pumping technologies for space heating already exist and will deliver significant efficiency improvements and considerable CO2 emissions reductions in many countries.

Innovation could help to address some known market issues, including high upfront prices and a lack of adaptability to multiple building contexts (e.g. multi-family residential buildings with limited outdoor space for exterior heat pump units). While packaging products can increase marketability, multiple synergies with other energy technologies such as solar PV and district heating networks could also be exploited to enhance system flexibility and efficiency.

Why is this gap important?

Greater electrification of heat (and other end uses such as space cooling) will place greater pressure on electricity systems, requiring not only improved energy efficiency but also greater flexibility through demand-side response. Markets with high shares of electric heating (e.g. France) illustrate the impact of electric heat demand during the winter and on extremely cold days. Heat pumps with high energy performance factors can help reduce the overall tendency of demand peaks, but flexibility through demand side response will still be required to shift some demand to off-peak hours.

In addition, heat pumps have the potential to provide electricity grid stabilisation in the context of grid decarbonisation, especially with increasing shares of variable renewables in the energy mix.

Technology solutions

Many manufacturers are working to include improved connectivity in new heat pump technologies, but it is still uncommon globally. Additional work is also needed to enable smart connectivity that would, for instance, use learning algorithms and network information on electricity demand/prices and weather predictions to enable greater responsiveness of heat pump equipment.

What are the leading initiatives?

Research such as in the HPT TCP Annex 42 is looking at how heat pumps can address energy supply challenges such as increasing renewable energy uptake, maintaining grid stability during extreme cold and providing flexibility to grid operators.

In parallel, the HPT TCP Annex 47 studies synergies between heat pumps and the 4th or 5th generation of district heating systems to enable heat recovery and use of low-grade heat sources. In many cases, the design and operations of the different parts of the system (including for distributed and central heat pumps) are key to exploit the demand-side flexibility potential to the fullest.

Why is this gap important?

Increasing heat pump attractiveness would buttress the clean energy transition, ensuring good heating equipment efficiency that can be employed affordably in different building applications and with other clean energy technologies such as solar PV and energy storage. Further R&D investments would address many barriers to heat pump deployment by making them more compact, easier to install, more efficient, less carbon-intensive and more flexible than conventional heat pumps through enhanced interactions with the grid.

Technology solutions

Some products at an initial stage of innovation are very promising, such as the ‘Climate and Comfort Box’ – a joint research initiative between the IEA Technology Collaboration Programmes on Heat Pumping Technologies (HPT TCP) and Energy Storage (ECES TCP). The concept was formulated and is being validated by the IEA TCPs, working with Mission Innovation partners. A workshop to finalise the work plan for the Climate and Comfort Box initiative took place in Utrecht on 17 January 2019 and it concluded that the joint annex will focus on issues such as affordability, the use of renewables for heating and cooling, and grid load balancing. The next steps will be to develop prototypes, which will require the active involvement of a broader set of stakeholders such as heating and cooling equipment manufacturers.

What are the leading initiatives?

The work of the IEA’s HPT TCP and ECES TCP to develop a Climate and Comfort Box is driving innovation in marketable integrated heating and cooling solutions; better demand-side management and integral controls; and more efficient use of gas to produce heat and cold.

Recommended actions

  • Energy, Finance and Environment ministries should by 2025 provide a policy framework steering demand for high-performance and low-carbon products
  • IEA Technology Collaboration Programmes, including Heat Pumping Technologies (HPT TCP) and Energy Storage through Energy Conservation (ECES TCP) should over the next 5 years and continuously: evaluate prototypes and coordinate field tests based on key indicators such as affordability, size and quality; and propose an integral design allowing heat pumps to be smart grid ready
  • Manufacturers and industries should by 2025 provide feedback on commercial attractiveness and enablers for industrialisation
  • Finance community should by 2025 ensure that products are eliglible to various financial instruments such as green bonds
  • Multilateral development agencies should in the next two years ensure that the product meets local expectations and include the products in development plans
  • Academia should continuously provide analytical support on benefits related to economic and social development, well-being, productivity, public spending or the environment.


Why is this gap important?

While extremely efficient, GSHPs are more expensive than other heat pump systems primarily due to installation costs, though these vary depending on the type of installation (e.g. shallow vs. deep drilling). Their reaction time to rapid or extreme temperature changes can also be long.

Geothermal technologies could help overcome multiple barriers to the decarbonisation of heating and cooling, such as increasing system efficiency by providing heating and cooling services at the same time, since commercial buildings often have simultaneous heating and cooling demand. Residential buildings can also have cooling demand at the same time as domestic water heating needs (e.g. during the summer).

Technology solutions

Geothermal heat pumps are already common in many markets such as the United States, Canada and Sweden, but effort is needed to reduce installed costs.

What are the leading initiatives?

Projects such as the European GEOTeCH project can help reduce costs and improve heat pump performance through measures such as innovative drilling and ground heat exchange technologies. The GEOTeCH project is also investigating ‘plug and play’ solutions to raise energy efficiency through digitalisation. The digital controls would optimise energy inputs (e.g. from the air or the ground) and heat pump working parameters based on consumer demand for space heating, space cooling and water heating.

Cooling

Why is this gap important?

Until recently, solar energy was too expensive to be used in most cases to directly drive air conditioning units. This is why solar cooling has not been developed beyond the R&D and demonstration levels; solar PV is especially rarely used for vapor compression devices. With the arrival of competitive solar distributed PV electricity, however, integrated solar PV cooling solutions are needed to take advantage of local electricity production.

Technology solutions

Commercial solutions coupling solar PV production and AC units exist already, but very few of them can be managed to adapt cooling production to solar resource variability. Ongoing development of thermal storage and other demand-side management tools can improve synchronisation of solar energy production with air conditioning loads (especially for residential applications).

What are the leading initiatives?

  • Mission Innovation Challenge #7
  • IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Technology Collaboration Programme, Task 53.

Recommended actions in the next 5 years

  • Ministries (Finance/economy; Environmental; Energy and Resource) should support researchers and manufacturers in designing systems to better manage PV self-consumption as well as thermal storage strategies (especially cold storage and ice), and support capacity-building and training.
  • Industry/companies should adopt and promote staff training.
  • Academia should model and test innovative systems.


Why is this gap important?

Solar thermal cooling systems typically combine heat-driven ad/absorption chillers, desiccant evaporative cooling, solar thermal collectors and thermal storage (hot water tank, phase-change material [PCM] or ice storage). The temperature of the solar thermal system depends on system composition, ranging from 40‑70°C for traditional flat plate collectors with desiccant evaporative cooling, to 250°C for Fresnel collectors (a linear concentrating solar thermal collector) with absorption chillers.

In conventional AC systems, the sensible load reduces the temperature of the air until it reaches 100% relative humidity. The latent load then removes the moisture from the air, but this usually results in the air being too cold for thermal comfort, so it must be reheated using additional energy. Humidity (or rather the latent heat that humidity contains) is responsible for a large share of the cooling demand in many countries.

Solar thermal cooling systems with one solid/liquid desiccant wheel could reduce cooling demand significantly, as they do not require extra energy for reheating.

Technology solutions

Key challenges:

  • high costs
  • lack of trained staff for installation
  • further R&D needed on system optimisation and materials for solid/liquid desiccants.

What are the leading initiatives?

  • The IEA’s SHC Technology Collaboration Programme, Tasks 38, 48 and 53
  • The Kassel Solar and Systems Engineering University
  • The European Technology and Innovation Platform on Renewable Heating & Cooling (RHC-ETIP)

Recommended actions over the next 5 years

  • Industrial producers should support researchers and manufacturers in designing components to reduce costs and improve performance, and support capacity-building and training.
  • Industry/companies should adopt and promote staff training.
  • Academia should model and test innovative materials.


Why is this gap important?

This technology, particularly suitable for hot and humid areas, cools and dries air using a liquid desiccant to simultaneously dehumidify and cool. Liquid desiccant cooling systems typically use liquid water-lithium as the sorption material and can operate on low-grade solar energy (i.e. lower temperatures), allowing for high density and less energy storage in the concentrated desiccant. Desiccants can dry the air without first cooling it to the dew point: when the desiccant is saturated with moisture from the air, solar thermal energy is applied to dehumidify it, ultimately providing air conditioning.

Technology solutions

The technology is currently at the R&D stage and further innovation is required to:

  • develop high-efficiency regenerating components.
  • evaluate performance and water needs under various test conditions.
  • improve understanding of its reliability, maintenance and optimal design.
  • reduce costs (estimated at 25% higher than standard vapour compression technology).

What are the leading initiatives?

  • the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Technology Collaboration Programme (SHC TCP), Task 48.

Recommended actions over the next 5 years

  • Ministries (Finance/economy; Environmental; Energy and Resource) should support researchers and manufacturers in designing components to reduce costs and improve performance, and create an incentive framework and market mechanisms to overcome technological barriers.
  • Academia should demonstrate, test and model the technology under various operating conditions.


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