International Energy Agency (IEA) unveils a comprehensive dataset showcasing the trajectory of government research and development (R&D) budgets in its member countries. This intricate data not only reflects the ebb and flow of energy R&D but also underlines the evolving priorities and technologies that have shaped the energy landscape.
The IEA’s data series, originating in 1974 amid the first oil price shock, discloses a notable shift in energy R&D. Following a doubling of investments between 1974 and 1980, there was a prolonged decline attributed to falling oil prices. However, a resurgence commenced post-2000, fueled by rising energy and raw material prices and a renewed governmental interest in energy research.
Nuclear energy emerges as a consistent frontrunner in R&D budgets for the majority of the dataset’s timeline. Initially peaking in the early 1980s with almost $8 billion annually, nuclear energy budgets have seen fluctuations, currently resting at $4 billion to $5 billion. Despite recent increases, the current budget remains below levels from almost 50 years ago.
Renewable energy, mirroring nuclear energy’s trajectory, witnessed budget growth in the 1970s and an early 1980s peak. Subsequently, the budget fell below $1 billion in 1986, gaining momentum after 2002 and hovering around $3 billion since 2014. In contrast, energy efficiency, once a modest recipient with $300 million in 1973, has steadily risen and now claims the lion’s share of IEA countries’ energy R&D budgets.
Fossil fuel R&D funding, reminiscent of nuclear energy, peaked in the 1970s, with notable exceptions such as the 2009 peak. The dataset includes research into carbon capture and storage (CCS), hinting at potential shifts in response to new government commitments to CCS. Meanwhile, ‘transversal technologies,’ cutting across multiple sectors, have seen a considerable rise, claiming 15% of the total budget in 2021.
A latecomer to the IEA’s dataset, hydrogen made its debut in 2002 with a modest $57 million budget. However, it rapidly gained momentum, reaching nearly $1.4 billion in 2021 and a remarkable $3.1 billion in 2022, placing it in close proximity to renewable energy R&D spending. With global hydrogen subsidies quadrupling to $280 billion in two years, it anticipates continued growth in government investment.