Clean energy patenting is outpacing fossil fuels, but experts warn it's not enough
A new report from the International Energy Agency and the European Patent Office tracks the upward march of clean energy patent applications worldwide — and warns that it's not enough.
Driving the news: The report shows a resumption in clean energy patenting after a slump in recent years, and that innovation in these technologies is outpacing fossil fuel-related patenting.
Why it matters: While aggressively deploying existing tech is a huge part of the climate puzzle, the report says that significant evolution and invention is also needed.
- "Technologies still currently at the prototype or demonstration phase represent around 35% of the cumulative CO2 emissions reductions needed to shift to a sustainable path consistent with net-zero emissions by 2070," the report states.
- The IEA and EPO note that recent annual growth in low-carbon patenting is slower than it was earlier in the century before the slump.
What they're saying: “This report is a clear call for action to step up research and innovation into new low-carbon energy technologies, and improve existing ones," EPO President António Campinos said in a statement.
How it works: The report tracks hundred of thousands of low-carbon energy patent applications filed since 2000 and groups them into three buckets:
- Low-carbon energy supply, like wind and solar.
- Tech that boosts efficiency and switching to clean energy in sectors like transport, industry and buildings.
- A cross-cutting bucket of "enabling" tech like batteries, hydrogen, smart grids, and a lot more.
The big picture: That middle bucket accounts for about 60% of low-carbon energy patents over the last five years.
- Patents on the supply side have been on a downward trend over the last decade.
- The groups said in a summary that this reflects the maturity of some sectors, like solar PV, which has "not yet been followed by a new wave of improvements to other renewables" like ocean energy.
- Patenting in enabling tech, which includes batteries for EVs, has seen the highest growth in recent years.
The intrigue: Electric vehicle and battery-related inventions have been a major driver of patenting growth over the last decade.
- That's visible in the report's breakdowns by company.
- Among the top 15 applicants from 2000-2019, six are automakers — Toyota, GM, Ford, Honda, VW, and Hyundai — and six are battery suppliers.
Of note: The analysis looks at patent applications filed in multiple locations, thus covering "inventions deemed important enough by the inventor to seek protection internationally."
- This is a "relatively small percentage of applications" and can be "used as a sound basis for comparing international innovation activities," IEA and EPO said.