Innovation in the clean energy sector has slowed, a report released Tuesday found, a worrying development as plans to meet carbon emissions reductions targets rely on yet-to-be-developed technologies.
A joint report by the European Patent Office and the International Energy Agency found that found that the average annual growth rate of patents for low carbon emissions technologies has fallen to 3.3 percent since 2017, considerably slower than the average level of 12.5 percent in the period 2000-2013.
At the climate summit last week in Washington, many nations reiterated pledges to reach net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century or soon thereafter.
However, the EPO-IEA report "Patents and the energy transition" found that around 35 percent of the cumulative CO2 emissions reductions needed to shift to a sustainable path to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 are still currently at the prototype or demonstration phase.
It said that "the energy sector will only reach net-zero emissions if there is a significant and concerted global push to accelerate innovation."
The report found that energy efficiency and fuel-switching technologies remained at the top of patent activities, accounting for about 60 percent of the total.
Patent activity in renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar has been in decline for nearly a decade however, and represented just 17 percent of the total in 2019, it found.
The key driver of patent growth since 2017 has been innovation in cross-cutting technologies such as batteries, hydrogen and smart grids, along with carbon-capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).
The report said these enabling technologies of energy transition increased from 27 percent of patent applications in the sector in 2000 to 34 percent in 2019.
"Electric vehicles are driving the dominance of end-use technologies in low-carbon energy patenting," it said.
While China has taken the top position for international patent applications and has been an early adopter of electric vehicles, the report found it is lagging in low emissions innovation.
Europe came in top with 28 percent of total patent filings in that sector, followed by Japan at 25 percent, and the United States at 20 percent.
South Korea followed with 10 percent and China accounted for eight percent.