The nuclear crisis caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011 had a significant effect on energy policies in Japan and around the world, highlighting the importance of renewables as clean energy sources. It is also widely recognized that now is the time to diversify the energy portfolio with renewables like geothermal energy, solar energy, wind energy, bioenergy and hydropower. Renewable energy has almost unlimited potential and will provide energy security when fossil fuels are depleted. The common perception in many academic, policy and political discourse on renewables is that innovation is focused primarily in the industrialized countries. And yet, ideally, it is important to encourage innovation in all development contexts.
World-wide energy systems are facing major pressures to transform into more sustainable systems of production and consumption. Climate change, depletion of resources, the need for competitive prices and economies, access to energy services for development and poverty reduction, and security of supply are all demanding a restructuring of current energy systems. The African region is abundant in natural resources and has great potential to utilize renewable energy from a variety of sources. We are rapidly adopting and developing renewable energy for power generation. There is also an increasing demand for new technical skills as businesses and industries are taking more interest in renewable energy making renewable energy academic programmes highly sought after.
Green innovation can be defined as “improvements to technologies (including products, processes, organizational/management and marketing structures) by entrepreneurs that are commercialized through markets to improve natural resource sustainability.” For developing countries, innovation can provide major opportunities. For example, it can contribute to satisfying the growing energy demand through a transformation of the power sector while meeting development needs. Investing in innovation can enable developing countries to develop their own domestic innovation trajectories. Hence,there is a significant incentive for governments to create an enabling environment for domestic research, innovation and entrepreneurship, and for tapping existing global knowledge and research in order to capitalize on the co-benefits from their needed energy build-out.
Over the past few decades, numerous, potentially more sustainable energy innovations have been proposed, studied, developed and implemented to varying degrees including, for example, on- and off-shore wind energy, solar PV technologies, carbon capture and storage, bioenergy innovations, insulation technologies, zero‐energy buildings, electric vehicles and other greener cars, and so on. Some innovations like on-shore wind and bioenergy have become well-established innovation systems and part of regular investment and policy portfolios in some regions, while others like carbon capture and storage are struggling to become established.
Clearly, there is need for innovation throughout the life cycle of the products and supply chain. Innovation can for example include: Entrepreneurs learning to ship products more efficiently, learning how to source parts better, and learning how to improve manufacturing or the operation of a technology. Grid operators and utilities can learn how to integrate a technology into the energy system more efficiently. And policymakers can learn which policies and regulatory frameworks most effectively support the use of the best technologies at the lowest cost.Another important factor to note is that the innovation climate in every country is affected by social, cultural and historical factors that are unique to the country in question and sometimes even unique to each region within a country.
Base of the Pyramid Innovation, or also called BOP innovation are especially important for increasing access to energy in developing countries. The benefits of them are that they are often co-created with poor consumers themselves which means that they meet the needs of poor households at much lower costs per unit. Examples could be to create cookstoves at a small cost that are also easy to scale up and that would entail co-benefits such as improved health.Yet, to date very few BOP (and related low-tech) green innovations have been sufficiently scaled-up. This can be partly explained by the low profitability of such innovations. Therefore, it remains essential for governments to create an appropriate policy environment to support them.
International collaboration specifically South-South exchange is also important as several studies show that there is very little South-South collaboration on energy innovation. Yet, since many developing countries share similarities in the energy sectors in terms of financing, technological capabilities, institutional arrangements, and power sector priorities, they would benefit immensely by cooperating on exchanging energy technologies.Lessons learned from South-South projects suggest that:
- Technologies developed and operated in other close-by developing countries are more economical and easier to transfer than those from developed countries.
- The cultural similarity between South-South countries enables better adaptation of technologies and thus, a more sustained operation.
- In addition, based on the experience gained, local capacity to further expand the delivery of technology can be built.
- Capacity building should not only include classroom training but should be accompanied by on-the-job training to give practical experience and build confidence.
The policies needed to enhance South-South collaboration can be divided into two categories: the ones that facilitate the research and development collaboration and the ones that facilitate exchanges of already-in-place technologies. Even though these categories represent two different phases in the technology cycle, they are mutually reinforcing. The time is now for energy policymakers of the global south to give serious attention to green energy innovation in their own backyards as opposed to always looking outside their home countries for inspiration.