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New energy technology research

Opportunities and challenges

The transition to a low/zero-carbon energy system and the reshaping of the modern energy system are necessary for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations. Such a transition must allow for coping with the global climate change crisis, and promoting the ‘green recovery’ of the world economy in the post-pandemic era. Currently, major countries and regions take the development of new energy technologies as a crucial opportunity to lead the new round of energy revolution and science and technology innovation. New energy technologies are being updated at an unprecedented pace.

Based on the Dimensions database of Digital Science, this study, combining bibliometric analysis, patent analysis and expert interviews, systematically analyses eight new energy fields, including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, nuclear, hydrogen, energy storage, and energy internet, as well as 20 subtypes of new energy technologies over the period of 2000-2019 (with a focus on the period of 2015-2019), to reveal hot directions for global new energy research, the potential for industrial transformation, and future development trends. The study takes a global perspective, considering the development of China's new energy technologies and corresponding research patterns, and conducts a comparative analysis of China’s research competitiveness with other major countries and regions.

This study reveals that:

1. Global research in the new energy field is in a period of accelerated growth, with solar energy, energy storage and hydrogen energy receiving extensive attention from the global research community.

2. China's total contribution to new energy research is substantial, and the contribution to high-quality research is also large, but compared with the United States, Germany, Japan and other developed countries, China is relatively down the country ranks in terms of average citations per paper in most energy fields, suggesting that its overall efficiency needs improvement.

3. The level of transformation of new energy research to applicable technologies is relatively low globally, and industry-academia-research integration needs to be further strengthened. In general, research transformation for energy storage, biomass energy and solar energy is at a relatively high level, with technologies for lithium-ion batteries and organic solar cells being the hotspots of common interest for both the research community and industry.

4. The qualitative analysis of expert interviews reveals that the rapid progress of energy storage technologies will provide powerful support for large-scale development of renewable power generation and electric vehicles; hydrogen will be an important medium for building future energy systems and realizing the energy revolution; breakthroughs in solar fuel technologies and relevant cost reduction may help reduce dependence on fossil fuels; and energy internet will bring dual advantages of the internet and smart energy systems into full play to realize coordinated optimal allocation of resources.

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