Which technology or innovation is most critical to achieving a sustainable and affordable low-carbon energy system in Europe?
One lesson from the German Energiewende is that low-carbon energy solutions cannot come from a short list of innovations and technologies. Crucial is the system integration of low-carbon technologies.
For example, photovoltaic has become a promising technology as its investment costs have sharply declined. Therefore the number of competitive markets and market niches are largely growing and solar technologies have a bright future in a low-carbon world. However PV alone cannot solve the carbon emissions from electricity generation because this technology cannot supply electricity whenever it is needed. Innovation activities are required that translate photovoltaics and other low-carbon power generation technologies into a sustainable electricity system.
There are a lot of ideas and prototype technologies around that might fulfill this task. But as surprises and disappointments appear inevitable, picking the winners through current political decisions is not rather promising. A lot of real market experiments are needed and a multitude of concepts should be tested in order to finally achieve an acceptable solution. Redundant and perhaps duplicating research and development efforts are today inevitable.
The already existing share of intermittent renewable power sources is not only a driver for these experiments but also an excellent test environment. With the developing decentralization of the electricity industry the potential actors and the manifold of experiments – the search space – is likely to become larger. Governments should restraint in hasty and selective market interventions that derogate the search space and should also allow time for system integration concepts to mature.