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Renewable Energy Experts Call For A “Grand-Challenges” Strategy

An international group of renewable energy researchers have called for what they are describing as a “grand-challenge” strategy — a “global clean-energy initiative to set priorities that galvanize researchers to deliver breakthroughs.”

Writing in a Comment in this week’s science journal Nature, a group of seven researchers — including Alan Bernstein, President and Chief Executive of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto, Canada — call for a “grand challenges” strategy in order to ensure the strategic and most effective use of the billions of dollars which are currently being set aside for research into renewable energy. Further, the authors note that, currently, public spending on research into renewable energy “is too low to meet even the modest targets set at the Paris climate talks last December, let alone decarbonize the world economy.” Currently, such funding stands at only $6.5 billion a year — which accounts for less than 2% of total public research & development spending.

The authors point to two recently formed initiatives which they consider “encouraging signs that the political will and private-sector interest is coming into place to accelerate the transition to a decarbonised economy.” Specifically, they point to the Mission Innovation and the Global Apollo Programme, two separate initiatives intended to accelerate funding and research. In addition is the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates, made up of private-sector investors intent on investing in innovative ideas.

But the authors believe that there must be a larger strategy that agrees on a global set of priorities to help make decisions about which renewable energy technologies to back.

We propose the following steps. A consortium of funding partners, including some or all of the Mission Innovation countries, Breakthrough Energy Coalition investors, philanthropic foundations and other private-sector actors, should appoint an international science board of distinguished researchers, policymakers, captains of industry and engaged citizens from developed and developing countries.

The board’s task would be to distill a set of grand challenges for renewable energy, and make them as detailed as those for global health. Areas to be addressed include energy harvesting and storage, smart grids and transmission, policy levers and economic models.

The full Comment can be read here, including information on each of the signing authors.

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