Utility-scale storage and solar should be a priority for governments with shrinking R&D budgets, shows a new paper published in the scientific journal Nature Energy.
A team of researchers, including Laura Anadon from the University of Cambridge's Department of Politics and International Studies, and her colleagues from the universities of Bocconi and Massachusetts Amherst, analyzed a range of studies and expert reports on public energy R&D investments in order to pinpoint the most cost-effective investments across energy technologies as either climate policy becomes more stringent, or R&D budgets tighten.
“What we found is that the impact of relatively low sums of public R&D funds for solar PV can make a significant difference in solar power costs and, in turn, on the costs of an energy system with lower CO2 emissions,” Anadon told pv magazine.
The research shows that the right tech investments can help economies by reducing energy costs, and even creating new industries, while at the same time reducing emissions damaging for the environment.
“Our method, described in the Nature Energy paper, allows us to determine not just what R&D investments would mean to solar power costs, but also to the energy system – total costs, electricity costs, etc. What we found is that, particularly if absolute public R&D investments stay around a business as usual scenario or decrease, solar PV, in addition to electricity storage, have large returns to society on the margin,” she said.
Referring to another of her papers published in the journal Climatic Change, Anadon said that it showed that experts had a range of expectations regarding the role that public R&D played on technology costs, but that when compared to other technologies, there was more agreement on the fact that public R&D would have a positive impact on solar PV.
“We found that on average, increases in solar PV R&D funding would result on additional module cost reductions of 20%, while even greater reductions would lead costs to go down by another 30%. This is additional to expected decreases through business as usual and learning by doing,” she said.
Referring once more to the Nature Energy paper, Anadon noted that as climate goals become stricter, even larger public R&D funding is needed and other more capital-intensive technologies in the R&D space would claim larger shares of total public R&D funding.
The research was published ahead of the Second Mission Innovation Ministerial in Beijing in June, which will focus on energy technology future investments.
Mission Innovation is a global initiative comprising 22 countries and the European Union, with a goal to accelerate clean energy innovation. When established at COP21 in 2015, the initiative’s members committed to doubling their clean energy R&D investments by 2020.
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