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Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Energy Sector

David Popp, Jacquelyn Pless, Ivan Hascic, Nick Johnstone


This chapter is a preliminary draft unless otherwise noted. It may not have been subjected to the formal review process of the NBER. This page will be updated as the chapter is revised.

Chapter in forthcoming NBER book The Role of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Economic Growth, Michael J. Andrews, Aaron Chatterji, Josh Lerner, and Scott Stern, editors
Conference held January 7-8, 2020
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press

Historically, innovation in the energy sector proceeded slowly and entrepreneurial start-up firms played a relatively minor role. We argue that this may be changing. Energy markets are going through a period of profound structural change. The rise of hydrofracturing lowered fossil fuel prices so much that natural gas is now the primary fuel for electricity generation in the US. Renewable energy technologies also experienced significant cost and performance improvements. However, integrating intermittent resources creates additional grid management challenges, requiring further innovation. This chapter documents the evolving roles of innovation and entrepreneurship in the energy sector. First, we provide an overview of the energy industry, highlighting that many new energy technologies are smaller, modular, and increasingly rely on innovation in other fast-moving high-tech sectors. We then conduct two descriptive data analyses that document a sharp decline in both clean energy patenting and start-up activity from about 2010 onwards. We discuss potential explanations and provide some evidence that while innovation in existing technologies may simply have been successful, continued innovation will be needed in enabling technologies that are more likely to depend on progress in other sectors.

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w27145, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Energy Sector, David Popp, Jacquelyn Pless, Ivan Haščič, Nick Johnstone
 
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