Tracking Clean Energy Innovation

A framework for using indicators to inform policy

About this report

The world needs more, better and cheaper technologies to achieve clean energy transitions, despite some progress in recent years. There is an opportunity to strengthen support for clean energy innovation as part of sustainable recovery plans and counteract the potential threats to energy technology development from the Covid 19 pandemic.

Tracking clean energy innovation progress encompasses several critical elements of effective energy innovation policy: identifying gaps and opportunities, evaluating the effectiveness of programmes and policies, and understanding the market readiness of key technologies, nationally and globally.

Drawing from available research and real-world policy examples, we use a four-pillar framework to present a set of metrics for tracking progress across clean energy innovation systems. A broad range of metrics are described for each of the pillars and key examples are illustrated with available data.

This report aims to support public and private decision makers’ efforts to accelerate clean energy innovation. Strategies for tracking progress and embedding innovation policy within energy policy are long-term commitments, and data collection can be challenging. However, tracking progress is an important element of policy good practice, and all countries have quick-win opportunities to improve. In emerging economies aiming to enhance their innovation policies, innovation system mapping and experience sharing can help make progress.
Executive summary

The world needs more energy innovation

Global policy discussions increasingly emphasise the critical role of innovation to meet long-term energy and climate targets. The world needs faster scale-up of low-carbon technologies for clean energy transitions, according to IEA analysis. However, many technologies are not yet ready for all the markets in which they will be needed. They require performance and cost improvements, even though the last few decades have seen unprecedented efforts to accelerate clean energy development, such as in the use of renewable sources of energy or low-carbon mobility. Many of these technologies will need adapting to local needs and specificities, particularly in emerging economies, which are expected to account for much of future energy demand growth.

Covid 19 can further catalyse innovation

Innovation efforts are threatened by the unfolding economic crisis due to the Covid‑19 pandemic. Entrepreneurs face greater challenges and uncertainty, public and private research and development (R&D) budgets are under pressure, and shifting policy focus may hinder long-term thinking on innovation needs. However, as decision makers work on Covid‑19 recovery plans, there are opportunities to accelerate innovation, develop medium-term structural growth and create jobs.

Maintaining clean energy R&D budgets in the short term and increasing them in coming years is necessary to stimulate innovation. The histories of solar and biofuels technologies show that increasing R&D budgets will be most effective if part of a broader policy strategy that primes the market, ensures flow of ideas and manages the risks of scale-up. Momentum must be kept in emerging economies, which will be crucial to clean energy deployment in the years ahead.

Throughout, rigorous data are essential to assess progress, reorient technology portfolios, provide benchmarks internationally and enhance policy effectiveness. However, tracking progress of clean energy innovation is difficult, with time lags between inputs (e.g. R&D spending), outputs (e.g. patents) and their outcomes in markets and society (e.g. jobs, exports, environmental health and prosperity).

Robust metrics are critical to track innovation progress

This report introduces a set of metrics to help public and private decision makers navigate the options for tracking and evaluating clean energy innovation. We hope these can guide thinking and support the development of energy innovation tracking strategies. The approach is intentionally broad and embraces the complexity of the topic, but it is also simply structured, with indicators relevant to four pillars of successful innovation systems: 1) resource push, 2) knowledge management, 3) market pull and 4) socio-political support.

The indicators presented are those that governments and companies have proposed or implemented, as identified from a variety of sources and conversations with practitioners. These examples show insights from existing data. However, a much larger opportunity lies in building new tracking strategies and capabilities into clean energy innovation policy, which should lie at the core of energy policy making.