Western governments urged to boost investment in renewables research

Industrialised nations must spend more on research and development of renewable energies, if they are to fulfil their potential in mitigating climate change and ensuring energy security, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday.

The IEA pointed to geothermal, ocean and concentrating solar energy sources as areas where research spending was particularly modest given the high renewable energy potential.

The share of renewable energies in total Western government energy research funding has remained modest over the last 30 years, averaging 7.6%, a new publication by the IEA reveals. This needs to rise if renewables are to fulfil their potential in mitigating climate change and ensuring energy security, according to the IEA.

“Countries must improve their market deployment strategies for renewable energy technologies and above all, increase targeted renewables RD&D – simultaneously ensuring continued cost-competitiveness. There is much at stake,” said Claude Mandil, the IEA’s Executive Director, at the launch of the new publication, Renewable energy: RD&D priorities.

Energy research and development budgets increased sharply following the oil shocks of the 1970s, then fell and stabilised at around two-thirds of their peak value.

“Governments need to consider restoring renewable energy research and development budgets to levels seen in the past,” Piotr Tulej, head of the IEA renewable energy unit, said at the publication launch.

Government money going to the development of biomass, photovoltaic solar and wind technologies has been increasing over the last 30 years, while that allocated to ocean, geothermal and concentrating solar power has decreased. This reflects the “evolving consensus as to where the greatest potential lies,” the IEA believes.

But the low levels of funding for geothermal, ocean and concentrating solar energies is not justified, according to the IEA report.

“Perhaps they are less fashionable than some other areas, but there is no overwhelming reason why this should be so. Governments are encouraged to look carefully at whether greater effort in any of these areas is justified by national circumstances,” the report urges.

The IEA publication follows commitments to address energy security and climate change made by the governments of industrialised nations at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in July 2005.

Renewables currently contribute 13.3% of the world’s primary energy supply, most of which comes from well-established technologies such as hydropower, biomass and geothermal. Increasing this share to 16% by 2030 could cut CO2 emissions by 16% – “if governments gave effect, through new policy measures, to their stated intention to do more,” according to the IEA.

Global energy-related emissions are set to increase by 52% between 2003-30 if present policies remain unchanged, the IEA says.

by Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie