Granular technologies to accelerate decarbonization

Authors: Wilson, C., A. Grubler, N. Bento, S. De Stercke and C. Zimm

Published in:  Science 368(6486): 36-39.

Date Published: 3 April 2020


Of the 45 energy technologies deemed critical by the International Energy Agency for meeting global climate targets, 38 need to improve substantially in cost and performance while accelerating deployment over the next decades (1). Low-carbon technological solutions vary in scale from solar panels, e-bikes, and smart thermostats to carbon capture and storage, light rail transit, and whole-building retrofits. We make three contributions to long-standing debates on the appropriate scale of technological responses in the energy system (2, 3). First, we focus on the specific needs of accelerated low-carbon transformation: rapid technology deployment, escaping lock-in, and social legitimacy. Second, we synthesize evidence on energy end-use technologies in homes, transport, and industry, as well as electricity generation and energy supply. Third, we go beyond technical and economic considerations to include innovation, investment, deployment, social, and equity criteria for assessing the relative advantage of alternative technologies as a function of their scale. We suggest numerous potential advantages of more-granular energy technologies for accelerating progress toward climate targets, as well as the conditions on which such progress depends.

Insights for EnergyREV:

Smaller-scale technologies and infrastructures offer numerous advantages for accelerated decarbonisation efforts, including faster deployment, more rapid learning, and more net job creation.