Tiny tech for accelerating transformation to low-carbon energy

In a Policy Forum, Charlie Wilson and colleagues explore the potential advantages of "granular" energy technologies - small-scale, lower-cost and modular technologies - for accelerating the low-carbon transformation of our global energy system. Opposed to the mainstream "bigger is better" upscaling of technology and infrastructure, Wilson et al. present new data and analyses demonstrating the benefits of granular energy technologies. In order to achieve international climate change and sustainable development goals, a rapid and transformative shift towards low-carbon energy technologies is required. According to the authors, policy support for granular technologies could help rapidly accelerate this shift while larger, more expensive technologies continue to develop. Of the 45 technologies deemed critical by the International Energy Agency for achieving global climate goals, which include many multi-million-dollar carbon neutral solutions like biorefineries and concentrating solar power plants, 38 require significant improvement in cost and performance before they can be deployed in the next several decades. While Wilson and colleagues note that granularity is not a universal solution to the challenges facing the global energy system, granular technologies can be empirically associated with faster diffusion, lower investment risk, faster learning, more equitable access, lower risk of lock-in and greater social legitimacy under certain conditions, their analyses show. Therefore, granularity should be an essential technological characteristic for policymakers to consider, the authors argue.

Credit: 
American Association for the Advancement of Science