Six major emerging economies, the 'BRIMCS' countries (Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, China and South Africa), invest more in energy research and development (R&D) than a large group of developed countries, according to a report.
In 2008, the governments of BRIMCS countries invested US$13.8 billion in energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) — well above the combined US$12.7 billion spent by the governments of the 28 member countries of the International Energy Agency, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Most of the funding went towards fossil and nuclear energy.
This suggests that the BRIMCS countries — responsible for around a third of the world's energy production and consumption, as well its greenhouse gas emissions — are also major players in the development of new energy technologies, said researchers from the Belfer Center, based at Harvard University, United States, who produced the report.
Mexico, for example, has shown significant support for energy efficiency through the creation of institutes and the approval of a legal framework to facilitate coordination among governmental bodies. The country invested US$252 million in energy RD&D in 2007 — but it still lacks systematic support for RD&D projects for renewable energy.
"Despite having the most advanced legislation on energy efficiency, Mexico needs to enforce the law more effectively," said energy expert José Luis Fernández-Zayas, a professor of engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
"The lack of a real association between the academic sector and industry has prevented investment from translating into real innovation in the energy sector."
India has established ambitious programmes for renewable energy and created several dedicated R&D institutions for new technologies. Brazil has policies for promoting energy efficiency and creating a transport infrastructure built on bio-ethanol. The country also supports energy RD&D projects for improving the transmission and distribution of electricity.
But challenges remain, the report said. One is the lack of policies and institutions supporting entrepreneurial activities.
Another one is the lack of systematic data collection on energy investments. There is limited information about industrial investments in energy technology innovation, which means governments have little means of knowing where the industry requires support.
"We have to improve data collection on investments by both industry and governments," Ruud Kempener, a research fellow at the Belfer Center and lead author of the study, told SciDev.Net.
The report also identified opportunities for collaboration.
Raúl Felix, coordinator for climate change and renewable energy in Mexico for Baker & McKenzie, an international law firm said that, for example, "Mexico could learn from Brazil's know-how on biofuels, while they could be interested in our energy efficiency policies".
By. Cecilia Rosen