Technology Innovation


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As my colleague Mike Toman noted recently, Geoffrey Heal of Columbia University said the following in a recent blog post:

"neither costs nor capital requirement will prevent us from decarbonising the electricity supply. The real obstacle to doing this largely with renewables is our current inability to store power, and as long as we cannot store power we will need to use non-renewable sources like nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage."

However, this view does not factor in future technological innovation, which I think is very significant.

The IEA Energy Technology Perspective projected that renewable energy could contribute around 50% of the power mix by 2050 under their Blue Scenario to achieve a 450 ppm world. Many other global leading energy/climate scenarios have the same projections, including those from Shell. Of renewable energy resources, geothermal, hydro, and biomass can provide base-load power. Indeed, solar and wind are intermittent.

A large share of these intermittent resources in the grid system may affect reliability, but this can be addressed in a variety of ways -- through hydropower (including pumped storage), load management, energy storage facilities, interconnection with neighboring provinces and countries, and smart grid management. Renewable energy resources in a power portfolio, such as wind and hydro, can complement each other. Smart grids can enhance the reliability of electricity networks. Concentrated solar power, with melted salts storage, can also provide base-load power. For example, ESKOM in South Africa is developing such technology providing a 68% load factor, based on the US pilot.

In addition to technical barriers, regulatory and institutional barriers also need to be addressed, particularly in developing countries. For example, grid companies usually have no incentives and bear additional costs to purchase intermittent renewable energy. To overcome this barrier, governments can mandate the grid companies to purchase renewable energy and provide incentives to compensate their additional costs. 

With the enabling supportive policies and technology innovations, the 50% renewable energy trajectory is within reach. Denmark has already achieved 20% power production from wind alone, and 30% from all renewable energy sources. It sets an ambitious target to increase its renewable energy share in power generation to 50%.


Xiaodong Wang

Senior Energy Specialist

Join the Conversation

Marlon Divina
March 10, 2010

That's true! Appropriate technology development is a key role in addressing the problem on chinging climate worldwide.The most important thing we consider in technologial advancement and innovation is the suitability and appropriateness in the local conditions.

Proper documentation of indigenous knowledge systems and best practices is also necessary to integrate it in developing technologies for local and commercial consumptions.

cheap r4 dsi
January 30, 2010

Technology is driving a lot of things in our lives. It has influenced a lot of people and has helped to make things better, easier and safer.Nobody can deny that technology has brought comfort to our lives, but almost all of us confess this fact that technology by itself has got a lot of deficits that in long term will cause a lot of side effects either physically or emotionally.

Xiaomei Tan
March 03, 2010

Indeed, technology innovation is the key to tackling climate change. The issue we face today is how to diffuse existing clean technologies quickly across the world, especially in developing countries. The example of ESKOM you mentioned seems to provide a good solution to grid integration issue. However, before this innovation is diffused widely, its mitigation effect will be small.

I think the biggest issue we face today is technology diffusion. Of course, a wide diffusion of clean technologies is contingent on developing countries’ technology adoption capacities.