By Dolf Gielen, Director of the IRENA Innovation and Technology Centre
It’s an exciting time to work in renewable energy. On a daily basis, we hear about new developments, ground-breaking innovations and unprecedented investment and deployment in the sector. Yesterday we learned that Bill Gates will invest US $2 Billion to spur renewable energy technology innovation and that Columbia University is developing renewable energy from evaporation. Today, a plane fuelled only by the power of the sun completed its flight from Japan to Hawaii, shattering records along the way.
In this time of exciting headlines, renewable energy patents and standards don’t typically grab the most attention, but perhaps they should.
Patents and standards are the unsung heroes of the renewable energy revolution. International standards ensure that the wind turbines next door and the solar panels on our roofs are safe and performing as expected. They help control the quality of imports and exports and bring more money into the industry by boosting investor confidence.
Patents meanwhile, are the “who’s who” of renewable energy innovation. They tell you who is developing what, where, and which countries and companies are leading the charge in which technology. They can also help policy makers judge the efficacy of policies to promote renewable energy innovation, e.g. if you implement incentive policies for renewable energy technology research and development and you see no patent activity, your policy may not be working.
But as important as renewable energy patents and standards are, they have not always been easy to find, especially in one place.
To fix this gap, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) today launched a new, free, platform to make patents and standards more accessible. The International Standards and Patents in Renewable Energy platform (INSPIRE), brings two million patents and 400 standards for renewable energy technology together in the same place. According to the Agency’s Director-General Adnan Z. Amin, the platform “consolidates vast collections of renewable energy patents and standards, which can foster collaboration between innovators, spur improvement through product comparison and help identify partners, matching domestic energy needs to innovative energy solutions.”
IRENA collaborated with the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), to bring this platform to life. The standards section enables users to search through a database of more than 400 internationally used standards and generate reports as needed. It also explains what standards are, how they can be used and why they are important for quality assurance, investor confidence and technology trading. The patents section houses the world’s most comprehensive global patent database for carbon mitigation technologies, the EPO’s PATSTAT, which contains nearly two million patent documents.
To help better illustrate the functionalities of the site, here are a few examples.
In the patents section, users can perform metadata analysis of technology trends, comparing development within, or between, different technologies. According to data pulled from INSPIRE, the number of patents filed for renewable energy technology has increased annually by more than 20 per cent in recent years, while the average increase for other technologies is around 6 per cent, signaling a huge shift towards renewables.
Users can also see who is filing patents for what. For ocean energy technologies for example, the US has historically led in number of patent filings, followed by China and Japan. However in the last five years, China has taken the lead to more than double the patents being filed in the US.
Energy patent filings historically (left) and the last five years (right).
For Lithium-ion battery patents, Japan used to enjoy a large lead, but has now been surpassed by China. Active patent filers for this area include LG, Toyota, and Samsung among others.
In the standards section, users can search the more that 400 standards in the database, sorting by technology group, aspects covered and key words.
As one might expect, renewable energy technology like wind and solar are already well-covered by international standards, while newer technologies like ocean energy are still in the process of being standardized. INSPIRE identifies more than 80 standards for solar photovoltaic technologies, covering most of the technology cycle, but for ocean technologies only 11 standards are identified. Users can generate live reports on the aspects of each standard, including installation, testing and manufacturing information as well as from which standardization body.
For those wanting even more details on standards, this section also includes the latest reports and white papers on the topic for download.
One final functionality of this platform is its potential to connect people in the industry. INSPIRE facilitates the networking of users and relevant standardization bodies by providing direct contact to groups working on patents and standards. The tool allows users to identify the key countries and actors in developing technology for specific applications and identify the patent filing offices for each country.
Renewable energy standards and patents may not be the most talked about elements of the renewable energy revolution, but they play a vital role none-the-less.
Find out more about renewable energy technology patents and standards yourself at www.irena.org/inspire.
About the Author: As director of the IRENA Innovation and Technology Centre in Bonn since 2011, Dolf Gielen oversees the agency’s work on advising member countries in the area of technology status and roadmaps, energy planning, cost and markets and innovation policy frameworks. Before joining IRENA, Gielen was Chief of the Energy Efficiency and Policy Unit at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Vienna. In that capacity, he managed a number of large projects involving energy efficiency and renewable energy (including those in Sri Lanka, Ukraine and India). Previously, he was a Senior Energy Analyst in the Energy Technology Policy Division of the International Energy Agency, Paris. Gielen has a PhD in Energy and Materials Modelling from the Technical University of Delft. He graduated with an MA in Environmental Sciences at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.
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