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Technological innovation is essential for sustainable development

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Beyond its key role in a country's competitiveness, technological innovation is essential to provide relevant responses to the challenges posed by our commitment to sustainable development in terms of economic growth, environmental preservation and social progress.

The technology foresight mission led by the Centre d'analyse stratégique has endeavoured to shed light on these two issues by proposing a long-term vision for the energy, transport and building sectors through a report published this month. For each technology studied, it has tried to assess both the possible contribution to sustainable development and our country's potential for competitiveness on the international scene.

The work examined the conditions for integrating these advances into pre-existing (or to be created) systems and sub-systems; and the conditions for reaching technical, economic but also social maturity.

As far as possible, two time horizons have been chosen: a medium-term horizon, 2030, for which there is a fairly clear vision of future developments, and a long-term horizon, 2050, which makes it possible to envisage scientific leaps that are still uncertain. Finally, the mission focused on four cross-cutting technologies that are constantly at work in the three main sectors studied and that are likely to produce decisive advances (metrology; nanotechnologies; regulation and control; the home network).

One of the lessons of the exercise is that technology foresight in France is still very fragmented, which makes it difficult both to adopt a systemic approach, which is nonetheless essential, and, with regard to the proper use of this scarce resource of public funds, to define priorities on a solid basis. In each discipline, in each sector, researchers and industrialists have their own forward-looking vision, sometimes too optimistic for the former, but these visions are insufficiently coherent to assess the real interest of possible innovations.

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A practical difficulty in conducting a global prospective approach is the lack of validated and shared databases on the cost and performance of technologies. This applies both to the current state of the various technologies and to information - at least orders of magnitude - concerning innovations under development or experimentation. These data exist or could exist, if the demand for them were clearly formulated, but they are dispersed in as many organizations and require sufficient consistency to serve as a basis for a forward-looking approach.

The four proposals in the report 

Proposal No. 1 In defining support mechanisms for the development of a technology, take into account its technical and economic maturity, its capacity for integration into existing systems and the global positioning of French research and industry.

Proposal No. 2 In the field of electricity production, encourage the deployment of competitive renewable energies and, for those whose electricity production costs are above a threshold to be determined, give priority to demonstration and research operations.

Proposal No. 3 : Given the price differences between ground- and roof-mounted photovoltaic installations, extend the concept of positive energy buildings to a wider area, the block or the neighbourhood, in order to benefit from local energy at lower cost.

Proposal No. 4 Investing in cross-cutting technologies: regulation and management systems (control and command) and in particular for buildings (home networks); nanotechnologies; measurement techniques (metrology); ICT; materials.

(Source: (c) Centre d'analyse stratégique - August 2012)

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