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Bringing rigour to energy innovation policy evaluation


Clean energy innovation is pivotal for low-cost energy sector decarbonization. Substantial public research and development funding is spent on energy innovation. Generating more evidence on which support mechanisms most effectively drive clean energy innovations, and why, could improve their design moving forward. In this Perspective, we discuss five challenges that researchers often face when attempting to rigorously evaluate energy innovation policies and public subsidy programmes. We recommend solutions, such as developing new innovation outcome metrics that consider unique features of the energy sector and building databases that cover long time periods. We also suggest that researchers and funding agencies work together to implement randomized control trials or conduct quasi-experimental evaluation of existing programmes and policies wherever possible.

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Fig. 1: Evidence on spending, innovation and economic outcomes.

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Please see the Supplementary Information file for the data used to create Fig. 1.


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We are grateful to D. Popp and J. Rhys for comments on an early version of this Perspective. The authors gratefully acknowledge the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy at the Oxford Martin School for financial support. N.F. also acknowledges funding through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 743582.

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All three authors contributed to the writing of this paper.

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Correspondence to Jacquelyn Pless.

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C.H. is the director of Aurora Energy Research Limited, an energy analytics firm, Vivid Economics Limited, an economics consultancy firm, has several clients in the energy sector and has had academic funding from Shell.

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Pless, J., Hepburn, C. & Farrell, N. Bringing rigour to energy innovation policy evaluation. Nat Energy 5, 284–290 (2020).

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