Researchers further broke down the results to see where innovation was the strongest. They found that renewable technologies, particularly wind and solar, saw large increases in annual patents issued, whereas nuclear energy-related patents had no such growth. From the early 1970s, when around 200 renewable energy patents were issued annually, patent offices now issue over 1,000 renewable energy patents a year.
The last 5 years of the study, from 2004-2009, showed a 13% annual increase in patents for solar technologies and a 19% annual increase for wind technologies. Fossil fuel technologies saw moderate growth, doubling from around 150 annual patents in the 1970s to 300 annual patents by the end of the study. By 2009, renewable energy patents comprised 1300 of the 1600 total patents issued, 81%.
This study shows a correlation between research and development budgets and patents filed. Research funding following the oil shocks of the 1970s provided a strong foundation for scientific growth for years to come. And while there may have been a drop-off in R&D funding afterwards, the study shows that the earlier gains were not lost.
The study also tracked where the patents were issued. The results show strong energy tech growth in expected nations such as the U.S., Germany, the UK, and Japan, but also shows that China is becoming a player in the energy tech field as well.
A separate report released by Citibank last Thursday backs up these findings and continues them into the future. According to the Citibank report, over $2 trillion will be invested into wind power and $1.3 trillion into solar power by 2025. Renewable sources are expected to receive over 70% of investment in new power generation over the same period. The report also noted the comparative appeal of solar energy over natural gas in the long term.