Clean energy trends – a snapshot

Solar is leading clean energy developments but auto manufacturers are most active when it comes to patents.
Published: Tue 14 Jun 2016

A continuing flow of new clean energy patents points to the ongoing development in the sector. And while the number of patents per quarter is down on the peak of Q3 of 2014, the overall trend is still upward for the sector.

A review of the latest data from the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) published quarterly by the Cleantech Group at intellectual property law company Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti, provides an interesting current overview on the clean energy sector. Of course not all patents result in commercial products but they nevertheless provide a snapshot of the current clean energy trends.

The patents reviewed in the CEPGI are those granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) but still they are probably broadly representative of the main developments in the sector. Many are from major companies or those active in international markets.

Auto manufacturers are king

In Q3 of 2015 (the latest data to be published, comprising 916 patents) the largest number to an individual company, 41, were awarded to Toyota, which also had the largest number in the first two quarters of 2015 and the largest total for 2014. Of these 23 pertained to hybrid/EVs and 18 to fuel cells.

In second place were Hyundai and Ford with 36 patents, of which in both cases 30 were for HEVs. Honda in fourth place included one solar patent among the 31 granted, while GM in fifth place had the largest number, 19, of fuel cell patents.

From these figures it can be seen that overall approximately twice as many patents were awarded to these top five auto manufacturers for HEV than fuel cell technologies, which would be indicative of the greater maturity of and accessibility of this market.

Nevertheless, overall the total number of fuel cell patents granted was almost 200, similar to the total number of hybrid/EV patents, and the second largest number by clean energy technology.

Solar leads the way

The largest number of patents granted in Q3 of 2015 was for solar with 309, marking the 10th quarter in a row in this position and slightly up over the previous quarter. This reflects the importance of solar with application at both utility and building levels and its more ready application in for example, microgrids.

Conversely, wind with 133 patents are marginally down on the previous quarter. Other technologies in order of number of patents are biofuel/biomass, tidal, hydroelectric and geothermal – all little changed from previous quarters.

Patent diversity

The most diverse patent haul was held by GE, with 16 for wind, two each for fuel cells and solar, and one each for biofuels/biomass and ‘other’. LG in second place had 15 for solar, two for HEVs and four for fuel cells.

Geographically, Japan led the non-US holders of US clean energy patents with 186 granted, marginally up on the previous quarter. Korea was in second place with 109 patents and Germany was third with nearly 80 patents, while Taiwan, China and Denmark all had numbers in the twenties.

In total, of the clean energy patents granted in the third quarter, 371 were owned by US entities (down six) while 545 were owned by those outside the US (up 23).