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Mission Innovation Frames Post-2020 Agenda to Accelerate Clean Energy Access

Mission Innovation, an intergovernmental platform to accelerate clean energy innovation, has published a report that summarizes the current status and future trends in clean energy innovation, and explores pathways for achieving the interrelated goals of enhancing energy access, combating climate change and addressing energy security. Also marking the five-year milestone of Mission Innovation, the report aims to provide input for discussions on the future role and priorities of the initiative.

The report titled, ‘Mission Innovation Beyond 2020: Challenges and Opportunities,’ is based on interviews with senior Mission Innovation officials and stakeholders, as well as an evaluation of the initiative, which was published in May 2019. Among key findings, the evaluation concluded that Mission Innovation members invested an additional USD 4.6 billion annually in clean energy innovation, and were hence on track to deliver their primary commitment to double investments in clean energy innovation within five years.

The publication contains an in-depth review of the current energy innovation landscape, including the various “supply-push” and “demand-pull” mechanisms for accelerating systemic energy transitions. The authors note that while the global community has been successful in driving cost reductions in key technologies such as wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) over the past decade, the rate of progress in innovation is still insufficient to deliver affordable and widely available solutions across all sectors of the economy to meet energy access, climate change and energy security goals.

Some of the key messages contained in the paper include:

  • Public and private investments in clean energy innovation are increasing slowly, with approximately USD 23 billion in public sector investments and up to USD 55 billion in private sector investment in 2018. However, the paper notes, this still accounts for a small share of total research and development budgets. In particular, public investment in energy innovation as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at half the level it was in the late 1970s.
  • Trends of rising energy access, electrification, digitalization and net-zero targets in some countries are shifting innovation priorities, with major challenges including providing grid flexibility, integrating and adapting technologies, reducing energy demand and demonstrating and scaling solutions for harder-to-abate sectors.
  • Coordinated experimentation can reduce costs and risks, increase confidence among innovators and investors and build larger market niches, but there is a need for alignment of priorities as well as building trust in international partnerships, and for adopting efficient delivery mechanisms to achieve impact.

One of the key challenges highlighted in the report is the length of time that it takes for innovations to reach significant market shares. The authors note that energy innovations have some of the longest incubation times due to low levels of private investment in research and development, long asset lifetimes and lack of a “premium” product. The report suggests that system-wide approaches, coupled with a “socio-technical transition,” may be required to realign technologies, behaviors, businesses, markets, rules and infrastructures. Among essential steps in this, the paper notes the importance of developing a clear and long-term vision, increasing skills, strengthening networks, investing in demonstrations, nurturing markets and building user acceptance.

Among Mission Innovation successes highlighted in the May 2019 evaluation report are an estimated 100 innovations “that will avoid 2 gigatonnes CO2 emissions per year by 2030,” and 59 new international collaborations supporting clean energy innovation. The report also showcases a selection of 50 “breakthrough solutions” funded by public investments that hold promise for achieving significant impact, ranging from basic research to demonstration of viable technologies. Some of the featured innovations include:

  • Testing the use of blockchain-powered distributed energy and water systems in Australia to assess how cities can use this technology for the integration of renewables;
  • A demonstration of how to deliver wind energy in isolated off-grid sites with permafrost and variable wind conditions in Canada;
  • Installation of 4,000 micro solar domes across several states in India, each of which can provide up to 17 hours of 60-watt-equivalent lighting for poor urban areas and remote communities;
  • Development of an all-solid-state battery that has achieved a power density three times as high as conventional lithium-ion batteries, based on Japanese-funded research on superionic conductors; and
  • Conversion of whole biomass residues to aviation fuels using an innovative aqueous reforming process developed in China that is also expected to generate income for local corn farmers.

Mission Innovation was established by 20 Heads of State attending the Paris Climate Change Conference in November 2015, with the aim of reinvigorating and accelerating public and private global clean energy innovation to make clean energy widely affordable. Members of the intergovernmental platform, including institutions responsible for more than 80% of investment in clean energy research and development, pledged to double their own clean energy innovation spending over the next five years. 

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