Energy-related R&D by OECD governments increased dramatically after the 1970 oil price increases, but has decreased steadily in real terms since the early 1980s; in some countries, the decrease has been as great as 75 per cent (IEA, 1997). Total 1995 expenditures were about US$10 billion. The total, however, hides some interesting shifts in the composition of energy R&D. The greatest declines in funding have been in the coal and nuclear sectors, while R&D for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies has increased; these now form almost 20 per cent of total energy R&D or some US$2 billion. More recent OECD data (OECD, 1999a) suggest that spending on basic research has remained relatively stable, in part because research is seen by the Organisation (and its member governments) as the engine for long term innovation and economic growth.
Overall there has been a shift in emphasis from longer-term technology options to meeting shorter-term needs (IEA, 1997), partly the result of increasing industrial competition and liberalisation in the utility industry. IEA (1999) notes that "many of the most promising technologies to achieve large reductions in carbon and emissions intensity require considerable applied R&D before they are commercially feasible. There are still others that are only at the conceptual stage but can be developed with further research."
The IEA has noted that statistics on energy technology R&D funding and deployment are weak, particularly for activities in the private sector. Most governments do not collect detailed information on private sector energy R&D (IEA, 1997), and the rates of deployment of new energy technology, for example, are the subject of "very rough and unsystematic estimates, if indeed they are measured at all" (IEA, 1997). The organisation notes that " better information on the nature and level of private-sector efforts could help Member countries target their energy R&D and technology investments and programmes more advantageously; but such information is often considered sensitive or proprietary".
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