Accelerating the development of emerging renewable energy technologies: research and policy challenges

Dr Mark Winskel, Instiute for Energy Systems, University of Edinburgh

Emerging renewable energy technologies promise to open up more diverse and more affordable paths for deeply decarbonising energy systems over time. In practice, realising this potential – ‘delivering’ technology acceleration – requires a thorough understanding of the technical, economic, institutional and environmental properties of different technology systems, their interaction with the wider energy system over time, and explicit and robust treatment of the many uncertainties involved. This paper systematically compares the research, policy and management challenges involved in accelerating the development of two emerging renewables now attracting significant levels interest in the UK and internationally – solar PV and marine energy.

Firstly, the paper describes and compares the status of solar PV and marine technology systems, in terms of stages of development, current and emerging UK policy support for research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D), the leading public and private sector organisations involved, and the relative standing of the UK research and developer communities in the international context. Secondly, the paper considers potential for cost reduction and performance improvement, in terms of different learning effects (e.g. learning-by-research, learning-by-demonstration, learning-by-deployment at scale), and how these may allow for acceleration, over time, for the two technologies.

The paper then considers the value of different analytic tools (such as roadmaps, engineering assessments and learning curves) in terms of their ability to capture and represent potential for accelerated development. Finally, it considers management and policy implications, the distinctive and generic challenges involved for different emerging technologies, and the extent to which current UK policy frameworks are supporting accelerated development.

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