According to a recent study by the United Nations, less than 1 percent of all patent applications relating to clean energy technology have been filed in Africa, with the majority of this 1 percent filed in South Africa. The study find that Africa is a mecca for clean energy and has the ability to leapfrog existing fossil-fuel energy sources. “Patents and Clean Energy in Africa,” finds the country has an untapped potential for generating clean energy including enough hydroelectric power from its seven major river systems to serve the entire continent’s needs. In addition, the country has great potential for solar, wind and geothermal energy sources.
Hydropower, the most commonly used renewable energy source, is estimated to be utilized at just 4.3 percent of the continent’s total capacity – although recent years have seen efforts to ramp up clean energy, with North African nations leading in solar and wind categories, Kenya in geothermal, Ethiopia in hydro and Mauritius in bioenergy.
The study also points out that intellectual property and patenting in particular have been highlighted as a significant factor limiting the transfer of new clean technologies to developing countries, and identified as a barrier to these countries meeting new emission limits for CO2 and other greenhouse gases. While the lack of patents filed means CETs can be freely exploited in Africa, the lack of these patents to protect their products means source companies may be reluctant to offer up their know-how to promote technology transfer, according to a news release on the study.
“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 UN Environment Programme spokesperson Nick Nuttall. “In addition to an accelerated response to climate change, boosting clean energy technologies have multiple green economy benefits including on public health – for example, in sub-Saharan Africa more than half of all deaths from pneumonia in children under the age of five, and chronic lung disease and lung cancer in adults over 30, can be attributed to solid fuel use,” he added.
Only 10 percent of African inventors apply for patent protection in Africa; the majority tend to seek protection in four other regions: the United States (27 percent), the European Patent Office (24 percent), Germany (13 percent) and Canada (10 percent), according to the study. The report adds that there are signs that the situation is changing. Despite low patent application numbers, the overall inventive activity in African countries grew by 5 percent between 1980 and 2009, compared to 4 percent at the global level. With a 59 percent increase, mitigation technologies grew most significantly in that period.