Impact of the falling number of patents for renewable energy products

Julia Kollewe writes in The Guardian that the falling number of patents for renewable energy products globally risks governments missing carbon reduction targets.

 

Global hopes for renewable energy fading, patents data show

The number of patents for renewable energy products filed worldwide has fallen by 42% over the last three years, which could suggest that global investment in green energy is stalling.

Research from commercial law firm EMW shows that 20,655 green energy patents were filed globally in 2014, for solar power, wind energy, biofuels and waste-generated energy – down from 35,590 in 2012.

EMW said this sharp decline has been mainly caused by oversupply in the solar panel market, with Chinese mass production hitting profit margins of other companies. Solar-related patents accounted for 65% of the total (13,551 patents) last year.

This has been exacerbated by subsidy cuts for renewables in many countries, including the UK, as well as the dramatic fall in oil prices that has widened the price gap between low carbon and conventional energy.

James Geary, head of EMW’s waste, renewables and energy team, warned this could well hamper efforts by governments around the world to meet their carbon reduction targets.

Geary said: “These figures show that the boom in green energy innovation that we have witnessed in recent years has peaked for now, suggesting that investment in R&D is tailing off across the renewables sector.

“In terms of solar energy, falling costs of solar panels fuelled by Chinese manufacturers flooding the market have hurt profitability, disincentivising costly research and development activity.”

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Geary added: “The net result is that, despite international efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions by focusing on renewables, the impetus to fund innovation in green energy has taken a knock.”

In the UK, the current subsidy scheme, called renewable obligation, is being replaced by a new system, in which subsidies will be capped at £200m. Spain and Germany have also scaled back their renewable energy subsidies in the past few years.

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