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Successful energy innovation in South Africa and around the world

Client: Department of Science & Technology of South Africa, Chief Directorate for Hydrogen and Energy

Period: April 2014 – December 2014

Project leader: Bram Buijs (Visiting Researcher at Energy Research Centre)

Project team: Bram Buijs, Guy Cunliffe (ERC Intern), Takunda Mambo (ERC Intern), Harald Winkler, Britta Rennkamp, Anastassios Pouris (Institute for Technological Innovation, University of Pretoria), Frik van Niekerk (North-West University)


The Energy Research Centre was approached by the Department of Science and Technology to undertake a research project in support of their Energy Research, Development and Innovation Strategy.

The objective of the project has been to assess what lessons can be learned from international experiences in energy innovation and the commercialization of energy technologies. Combined with two assessments of the current status of energy research in South Africa, this could then help inform national R&D and innovation policy for the energy sector by the Department of Science and Technology.

The project consisted of three main components, which have been completed in collaboration with North-West University and the University of Pretoria:

1. A country comparative study on energy innovation: undertaken by the Energy Research Centre. In this country-comparative study, five countries and the development history of several energy technologies has been analysed in separate studies:

  • Brazil (biofuels for transport and flex-fuel technology)
  • China (wind energy, solar PV and nuclear energy)
  • Denmark (wind technology)
  • South Korea (nuclear technology)
  • United States (battery technology for electric vehicles)

For each of the country case studies, the historical development of specific energy technology innovations and their commercialization was analysed, with a focus on the role of government policies and policies on R&D and innovation in particular. The aim has been to derive generic lessons regarding the ‘choice’ for certain technologies and the nature of supportive policies that have led to successful commercialization.

2. A review of the state of energy research in South Africa: this component has been based upon The State of Energy Research in South Africa that was published by the Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf) in August 2014, under supervision of Prof. Van Niekerk of North-West University. It provides a thorough analysis of energy research activities, collaboration and funding in various fields based upon desktop research and questionnaire among the energy research community of South Africa.

3. An assessment of scientific energy research in South Africa: undertaken by Prof. Pouris of the University of Pretoria. This component analyses the scientific output of South Africa’s energy research community and places it in international perspective.

The conclusions of the project, based on the three components, established several policy lessons and implications for South Africa’s energy research, development and innovation strategy.

The project has resulted in several papers. In addition, several workshops have been held with the Department and other collaborators of the project. The intention is to rework one or more papers derived from the project into academic journal articles.