Clean Energy Innovation: Sources of Technical and Commercial Breakthroughs

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Low-carbon energy innovation is essential to combat climate change, promote economic competitiveness, and achieve energy security. Using U.S. patent data and additional patent-relevant data collected from the Internet, we map the landscape of low-carbon energy innovation in the United States since 1975. We isolate 10,603 renewable and 10,442 traditional energy patents and develop a database thatcharacterizes proxy measures for technical and commercial impact, as measured by patent citations and Web presence, respectively. Regression models and multivariate simulations are used to compare the social, institutional, and geographic drivers of breakthrough clean energy innovation. Results indicate statistically significant effects of social, institutional, and geographic variables ontechnical and commercial impacts of patents and unique innovation trends between different energy technologies. We observe important differences between patent citations and Web presence of licensed and unlicensed patents, indicating the potential utility of using screened Web hits as a measure of commercial importance. We offer hypotheses for these revealed differences and suggest a researchagenda with which to test these hypotheses. These preliminary findings indicate that leveraging empirical insights to better target research expenditures would augment the speed and scale of innovation and deployment of clean energy technologies.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages45
StatePublished - 2011

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-50624


  • breakthroughs
  • clean energy
  • innovations
  • low carbon
  • patents
  • web hits


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