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Africa lags in clean energy technology patents

Africa has recorded less than one percent of all global clean energy technology patents, with most of these filed in South Africa, found a recent report of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The Patents and Clean Energy Technologies in Africa report underscores the huge untapped clean energy opportunities in Africa that could allow it to leapfrog existing fossil-fuel energy sources and cut greenhouse gas emissions while meeting its developing needs.

These untapped sources include hydroelectric power coming from its seven major river systems – enough to serve the continents energy demand - and other renewable sources such as solar energy, wind energy and geothermal energy.

According to the report, intellectual property and patenting have been a significant factor limiting the transfer of new clean technologies to developing countries, and a barrier to those countries meeting new emission limits for greenhouse gas emissions.

While the lack of patents filed means clean energy technologies can be freely utilized in Africa, it also means the inability to protect their products may likely lead source companies to be reluctant to share their know-how to promote technology transfer.

Only 10 percent of African inventors apply for patent protection in Africa with the majority tending to seek protection in four other regions including the United States with 27 per cent, the European Patent Office with 24 per cent, Germany with 13 per cent and Canada with 10 per cent.

Despite low patent application numbers, the report noted the overall inventive activity in African countries increase by 5 percent between 1980 and 2009, compared to 4 percent at a global level. With a 59 percent increase, mitigation technologies grew most considerably in that period.

“The development and transfer of technologies are key pillars in both mitigating the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects; patents are a crucial part of this process,” said Nick Nuttall, U.N.E.P. Spokesperson.

Aside from climate change mitigation, boosting clean energy technology use in Africa would have multiple green economy benefits and even public health benefits.

The report, co-authored with E.P.O., is the first representative stock taking of clean energy technology patents in African countries. According to E.P.O. chief economist Nikolaus Thumm, its aim is to facilitate an “evidence-based” debate on the role of patents in the spread of clean energy technogies in Africa, as well as to promote identification of existing technology solutions in the field for technology transfer to the continent.

The past few years have seen some efforts to develop more renewable energy capacity in Africa, including solar and wind projects in the North African nations, geothermal in Kenya, hydropower Ethiopia, and bioenergy in Mauritius.

Hydropower, the most commonly used renewable energy source, makes up just 4.3 percent of Africa’s total capacity. – EcoSeed Staff

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