Successfully combating climate change will require substantial technological improvements in Low-Carbon Energy Technologies (LCETs). An ecient allocation of R&D budgets to accelerate technological advancement necessitates a better understanding of how LCETs rely on scientific knowledge. In this paper, we sketch for the first time the evolution of knowledge bases for key LCETs and show how technological interdependencies change in time. We use data covering almost all US patents as well as scientific articles published in the past two centuries to quantify the history of LCETs and their dependence on science. We show how the drivers of low-carbon innovations shifted from Hydro and Wind energy to Nuclear fission, and more recently to Solar PV and back to Wind. Our analysis demonstrates that 1) LCETs rely increasingly on science, 2) Solar PV and Nuclear fusion depend heavily on science, while Hydro energy does not, 3) renewable and nuclear energy technologies rely on a strikingly different kind of science, and 4) there is a remarkable convergence of scientific knowledge bases of renewables over recent decades. These findings suggest a need for technology-specific research policies, although targeted research in renewables is likely to cross-fertilize a wider range of LCETs.


Hötte, K., Pichler, A. and Lafond, F. (2020). 'The rise of science in low-carbon energy technologies'. INET Oxford Working Paper No. 2020-10
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