Clean energy patent slump in U.S. stirs concern

Apr 26, 2017

By Warren Cornwall

A surge in innovation tied to low-carbon energy technologies is showing signs of tapering off in the U.S., at a time when the Trump administration is targeting the field for cuts in government research spending.

The number of patents issued in fields related to cutting carbon emissions climbed from 15,970 in 2009 to approximately 35,000 in 2014 and 2015, before slipping back slightly to around 32,000 in 2016, according to a new report issued today by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

It’s too soon to know whether this short-term drop is part of a bigger trend, says Devashree Saha, the study’s lead author and an associate fellow at Brookings. But it could be compounded by a push from the new president to pare back spending on renewable energy research, she says. “That, I think, raises a lot of concerns as to what is going to be the future of cleantech innovation in the next few years.”

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2 comments on “Clean energy patent slump in U.S. stirs concern

  • @OP – A surge in innovation tied to low-carbon energy technologies is showing signs of tapering off in the U.S., at a time when the Trump administration is targeting the field for cuts in government research spending.

    If the US wants to move towards Trumpist backwardness, others will take the lead, the business, the investments, and the profits, from them!

    China is world’s largest investor in renewable energy – By: Emma Rumney – 31 Mar 16

    China blazed ahead of the rest of the world in terms of investment in renewable energy last year, spending a total of $103bn, or 36% of the world total.

    The country, notorious for its dangerous levels of pollution, invested more than the US ($44.1bn), the UK ($22.2bn) and Japan ($36.2bn), put together, the United Nations Environment Programme’s annual report on global trends in renewable energy found.

    In total, countries around the world invested $286bn in renewable energy capacity, early-stage technology and research and development in 2015 – more than six times higher than investments in 2004 and setting a new global record, adding $13bn to 2014’s investments.

    As also revealed by Climatescope 2015 in November, developing countries outpaced their developed counterparts for the first time last year. The UNEP found emerging economies invested $156bn last year, a 19% increase on 2014, surpassing the developed world’s $130bn, which marked an 8% decrease.

    Also for the first time, coal and gas-fired electricity generation attracted less than half the investments made in solar, wind and other renewables capacity, which stood at $130bn and $266bn respectively.

    UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said last year’s record-setting investments are further proof that renewables are becoming ever more central to low-carbon lifestyles, and proving especially valuable in societies where reliable energy can offer “profound” improvements in quality of life, economic development and environmental sustainability.

    UNEP also noted earlier this week that Latin America could save up to 10% in energy consumption by switching to cleaner technologies, saving $350bn in energy bills annually and reducing global CO₂ emissions by 1.25bn tonnes per year.

    The report said this fast-rising demand in emerging economies, particularly China’s dash for wind and solar, are among the factors driving this shift in investment towards developing nations and away from advanced economies.

    While countries like India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile all saw significant increases in investment, with the latter three seeing 329%, 105% and 151% spikes respectively, investment in Europe was down 21% at $48.8bn, the continent’s lowest figure for nine years despite record investments in offshore wind projects.

    Subsidy cutbacks in Europe and sluggish economic growth in advanced economies could also be contributing to this trend, the report said.

    The falling cost of renewables is also a factor in their rise across the globe.
    Worldwide, clean energy sources added 134 gigawatts of capacity last year, compared to 106GW in 2014 and 87GW in 2013.

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  • The bland assurances that gas fracking is safe, should also cause concern to those who rely on aquifers for their water supplies!

    The world’s oldest and deepest waters are not immune from contamination, warn scientists.

    It had been assumed that “fossil” reserves found hundreds of metres underground would be largely untouched by modern water sources.

    But sampling from some 10,000 wells shows this not to be the case.

    The new study reveals that about half of the deep groundwater has had contact with rains and snows that fell in the past 60 years.

    And that means these ancient aquifers are also at some risk from pollution if waste and land management practices are defective.

    It is an issue of significance because fossil waters are an important resource, providing drinking supplies and irrigation for billions of people across the globe.

    The scientists presented their findings here in Vienna at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly. They have also published a report in the journal Nature Geoscience.

    The team tested the deep waters for the presence of two radioactive elements.

    The first was carbon-14 which occurs naturally in the environment and is pulled out of the air by rain and snow. This precipitation will eventually percolate into deep soil pore-spaces and rock fractures.

    Because carbon-14 decays relatively slowly, a very low count in water will indicate great antiquity. Scientists will use the term fossil in this context to mean water that last touched the atmosphere more than about 10,000 years ago.

    The second radioisotope to be checked was tritium, a heavy form of hydrogen which, in contrast, decays very rapidly. It was put in the atmosphere by A-bomb tests in the 1950s/1960s, so its presence is a sign of water’s youth.

    “What we’ve learnt from these two radioisotopes is two things,” explained team-member Jim Kirchner from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

    “One is that more than half of groundwater under our feet is fossil groundwater. The second important finding is that of this fossil groundwater, the water that comes out of those wells also contains a component of modern groundwater in at least half of cases.

    That means the water we are pumping from these deep wells, from what we think are ancient aquifers, also can potentially contain modern contaminants, either because of mixing within the well itself as the water is brought up, or because of mixing within the aquifer,” he told BBC News.

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