A new study released last week has looked at the implications of switching the focus of mitigating climate change from developing energy supply technologies towards developing energy efficient cars, buildings, and domestic appliances.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that twice as much effort is currently being directed towards developing supply technologies such as new power stations than is being directed towards improving the efficiency of end-use technologies.
“About two-thirds of all public innovation efforts are directed toward energy supply technologies,” explained Dr. Charlie Wilson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia who led the study.
“It is vital that innovations in renewable energy supply continue, but the imbalance in spending needs to be redressed urgently to mitigate climate change. Evidence strongly suggests that energy end-use and efficiency currently stand as the most effective ways to mitigate climate change.”
“Efficiency gets short shrift in both public energy research and development, and in private market investments alike,” said Study co-author Prof Arnulf Grubler, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and Yale University. “In contrast, improvements in technologies like domestic appliances and more energy-efficient transport are underrepresented given their potential for mitigating climate change.”
The study, led by Dr Wilson in collaboration with an international team of scientists fro Austria and the US, assessed energy technology innovation and quantified the relative emphasis placed on energy supply technology versus the technologies that are using the energy supplied.
The researchers considered three desirable outcomes of energy innovation — the potential for greenhouse gas emission reductions; broader social, environmental and energy security benefits; and the potential for technological improvements.
What they found might be surprising to those advocating a clear focus on developing energy supply technologies.
Energy end-use outperforms supply technology in each of the three desirable outcomes listed above. According to the researchers, “they occupy a greater share of energy system investments and capacity, and engage higher levels of private sector activity, they offer higher potential cost reductions, and they provide higher social returns and higher emission reduction potentials.”
“Directed innovation efforts are trying to push energy supply technologies to mitigate climate change into a market that’s already heavily occupied by subsidised incumbents,” explained Dr Wilson.
“The multitude of small-scale innovations that improve end-use efficiency often go unnoticed because they don’t have the glamour of solar panels and wind turbines, and they don’t benefit from the well-established institutions, powerful market interests, and political influence that support supply technologies such as fossil fuels, nuclear, and wind and solar power. Yet end-use efficiency innovations have more potential and provide higher social returns on investments.”