Mitigating climate change requires directed innovation efforts to develop and deploy energy technologies. Innovation activities are directed towards the outcome of climate protection by public institutions, policies and resources that in turn shape market behaviour. We analyse diverse indicators of activity throughout the innovation system to assess these efforts. We find efficient end-use technologies contribute large potential emission reductions and provide higher social returns on investment than energy-supply technologies. Yet public institutions, policies and financial resources pervasively privilege energy-supply technologies. Directed innovation efforts are strikingly misaligned with the needs of an emissions-constrained world. Significantly greater effort is needed to develop the full potential of efficient end-use technologies.