Business leaders are pinning their hopes on green innovation as a solution to the twin problems of climate change and the financial crisis. However, hard data in this area is scarce, making it difficult to quantify the true extent of Europe's eco-innovation sector.
This will change in April next year when the EPO publishes early results of a major project looking at the growth in new patents for environmentally sound technologies.
The study will also look at how the green patent landscape has evolved since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and examine how companies have responded to incentives and policy signals.
An EPO spokesperson said the report was originally planned to coincide with the Copenhagen conference but it is now expected to be unveiled in time for a 2010 conference, hosted by the Spanish EU Presidency, on innovation in the renewable energy sector.
Raw data from the EPO shows that patent applications for environmental technologies indicate rapid growth. In the ten years from 1998, patent applications for new energy innovations grew by an average of 6% per year.
Wind power, fuel cells, solar thermal and photovoltaic energy technologies have shown the strongest growth since the late 1990s.
The US, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands are leading the way with the highest number of innovations in the new energy sector, with companies such as General Electric, Siemens and Nissan having made the most patent applications.
PPPs could be central to 'eco-innovation'
Greater links between the public and private sector could become a hallmark of Europe's emerging green industry, according to political and industry leaders who gathered in Brussels for a seminar on eco-innovation, hosted by the Lisbon Council.
Marcel Haag, head of unit with the strategic objective of solidarity at the secretariat-general of the European Commission, said the public and private sectors will have to work hand-in-hand to bring about innovations. "This cannot be delivered by the public sector alone or by the private sector alone," he said.
Haag said climate change and innovation will be key priorities for the new European Commission. He cited the bloc's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), which puts a price on carbon, as a potential driver of future innovation. However, Haag sought to temper expectations by adding that the EU can only act where Community intervention adds real value.
The intellectual property regime is a major bottleneck to encouraging innovation, he said, adding that progress on this perennial problem is a priority for the EU.
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) will also help drive future green technologies, he said, pointing to the Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) and the European economic recovery plan, which provides for several PPPs in areas like electric transportation.
"We are currently looking at how we can get more mileage from PPPs through better coordination between stakeholders and simplification of the JTIs. which are very complex," Haag said.
However, Tom Barrett, a director at the European Investment Bank (EIB), warned that PPPs are not always the right solution. He said they can be complex instruments and can even become an obstacle to securing public support for major projects.
Barrett stressed the importance of understanding why some PPPs worked well and why others had proven less successful.
Industry big guns line up behind greentech
Harry Verhaar, senior director of climate change and energy at Philips, said energy savings from lighting and improved insulation will help cut Europe's carbon footprint while generating huge numbers of jobs.
"Energy technology is the next economic wave," he said, adding that the US, China and South Korea are already investing heavily in green energy.
Verhaar said lighting accounts for 19% of global energy consumption and the technology used in this sector is hugely inefficient.
€120 billion can be saved by using more efficient lighting and this will mean fewer power plants are needed. Further savings can be found by improving Europe's building stock, as 99% of buildings need to be renovated, according to Verhaar. He said France, for example, would have to renovate 1,000 homes per day until 2050 in order to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.
"This is not a sacrifice. It will bring employment, comfort and lower bills," he said.