Advancing sustainable innovation in energy

By Yang Chung-han and Lin Ming-sian 楊宗翰 林明賢  / 

Thu, Jan 25, 2018 - Page 8

Earlier this month, the Executive Yuan passed draft amendments to the Renewable Energy Development Act (再生能源發展條例), which are now under review by the legislature.

The main objective of these revisions is to accelerate the low-carbon energy transition and support the liberalization of the electricity market. The draft sets a clear policy goal of generating 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

However, its policy incentives for a new wave of clean energy innovation mainly focuses on existing technologies and facilities — wind power, solar and small-scale hydropower — while the comprehensive connections between energy innovation policies and Taiwan’s long-term vision for scientific development, set by the Fundamental Science and Technology Act (科學技術基本法), has not been well established.

Pushing renewable energy innovation and investment is a global trend. The EU last year marked the 10th anniversary of its Strategic Energy Technology Plan, while the UK set up a new Clean Growth Strategy and the Energy Technology Institute, aiming to invest US$3.3 billion in low-carbon energy innovation.

The World Bank has established seven climate-innovation centers in emerging economies since 2013. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Technology Mechanism also emphasizes promoting technology innovation and transfer in the global south.

Drawing on these collective global experiences, it would be valuable to investigate what elements can make energy innovation truly work for sustainability and to distill some significant international lessons for informing future policy incentives.

First, mechanisms that facilitate adaptive learning should be established as changes in technological innovation are often non-linear.

A key insight from previous successful initiatives is that increasing interactions between existing and emerging technologies and between basic and applied research creates the greatest opportunities.

Second, measures that systematically integrate the interests of marginalized populations and future generations are able to mitigate the power imbalances in technology innovation systems.

Previously, the international organizations and governments usually did not pay enough attention to the real needs of the less powerful individuals. As a result, these third-party selection technologies were poorly suited for their ultimate consumers and sometimes even harmed the affected communities.

Third, cross-sector partnerships, like the ones between public research funds and the private sector, are particularly useful in tackling technical and non-technical barriers for commercial applications.

The EU’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking is a public-private partnership, yet since 2008, it has been successful in boosting the European fuel and hydrogen sector and leveraging almost the same amount of private investment as the EU’s public fund.

APEC’s Energy Smart Communities Initiative last year honored a Taiwanese project that applies fuel cell and hydrogen technologies to operate an independent micro-grid power supply in Penghu’s Dongjiyu Islet (東吉嶼). Yet such technologies do not receive the same strong policy support as wind power and solar under the Renewable Energy Development Act.

Energy-innovation programs should provide space for both mature technologies and new innovations. Taiwan might need to evaluate its existing innovation strategies and learn from decades of international experience.

Yang Chung-han is a doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance. Lin Ming-sian is a research associate at the Taiwan Research Institute.