A review of the evidence on the time taken for new technologies to reach widespread commercialisation

The role and importance of technological innovation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is well established in national and international policies. In addition, a substantial number of analyses emphasise the importance of government policies in promoting innovation directly – in part through support for research and development, but also through the creation of markets for emerging technologies. The creation of markets often relies upon targeted, technologically specific policies, for example feed in tariffs for renewable energy, where tariff rates are differentiated by technology. This gives rise to debate about the affordability of large scale deployment subsidies and the role of governments in deciding which technologies to support. A related argument is associated with how governments should determine the balance between support for deployment and incremental improvement in existing technologies and support for ‘blue skies’ R&D which seeks to develop new technologies.

Some protagonists argue that large scale support for deployment should be substantially reduced and support for R&D scaled up on the basis that the current suite of technologies may not be able to deliver decarbonisation with sufficient speed or at acceptable cost. A key consideration in this debate is the amount of time required for a new technology to emerge from fundamental research, go through demonstration and early stage deployment and diffuse into the market place, and it these timescales that are the focus of this TPA project. If any new low carbon technologies are to play a substantial role in reducing carbon emissions then it will be necessary for them to be proven, available and deployed at a scale that is sufficient for them to make a material impact. This TPA project therefore asks:

What is the evidence for the time new technological innovations take to reach commercial maturity?

More details on the project and the approach can be found in the scoping note below:

TPA Innovations Timescales Project Scoping Note

The project team have now published a draft report as a UKERC Working Paper

UKERC TPA Innovation Timescales Working Paper