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Innovation Analysis

NREL innovation analysis—part of our broader effort supporting manufacturing analysis—involves understanding the dynamics of clean energy technologies to inform research investment decisions and innovation and technology transfer policy.

NREL's innovation analysis studies show that:

  • Different energy technology areas present unique patterns of invention and innovation.
  • New empirical methods for estimating technical and commercial impact (based on patent citations and web presence) to better target research expenditures could boost the speed and scale of innovation and deployment of clean energy technologies.

Featured Study

In Clean Energy Innovation: Sources of Technical and Commercial Breakthroughs, NREL employed regression models and multivariate simulations to compare social, institutional, and geographic drivers of breakthrough clean energy innovation as follows:

  • California dominates across all renewable energy technologies; clean energy patents are increasingly coming from non-U.S. sources—primarily Germany, Japan, Canada, and France.
  • The Department of Energy and NASA historically account for one-third of renewable energy patents.
  • Solar shows the highest levels of inter-organizational linkages, and biofuels shows lowest levels; extent of collaboration networking lags pharma and software.

The study also employed a new empirical methodology to estimate the impacts of clean energy innovation in the marketplace and found that:

  • Web presence may provide a better representation of the commercial relevance of clean energy patents than patent citations.
  • Factors impacting breakthroughs and commercial relevance vary across renewable energy technologies.