5.2 Stimulating sustainable energy innovation through policy learning and joint action

Birgitte Gregersen , Department of Business Studies, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
Björn Johnson , Department of Business Studies, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
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  • Abstract

    Related to the climate crises debate, innovation and technology development in the energy area are currently among the most frequently discussed subjects within policy, media and general business development discussions. Based on an ongoing comparative analysis of five technology areas: bio fuels, hydrogen technology, wind energy, solar cells and energy-efficient end-use technologies this paper presents a policy learning perspective on the development of renewable energy technologies in Denmark. Although the empirical basis is the specific Danish context, lessons learnt are relevant in a broader policy context as well.

    The market conditions within the latest years have improved in relation to the possibilities for implementing and testing new energy technologies. Figure 1 gives an overview of what factors the Danish actors see as key drivers for such ongoing changes within the various technology areas. It is interesting to notice that there are both similarities and differences between the five technology areas. Among most of the respondents, independent of technology area, the international policy scene in the form of EU regulations and international energy, climate and environment policies is considered as a key driver for the increasing demand for sustainable energy solutions. In addition, especially Energy efficiency and Solar cells respondents draw attention to the importance of domestic regulations (for instance in relation to construction) and energy labelling as explanations for the changing market conditions within their technology areas. Similarly, a new technology area as hydrogen sees domestic public support as important for market formation, while a more established and export oriented area as wind energy emphasizes the international policies paying relatively less attention to the national policies.

    Figure 1: Factors influencing changes in the market conditions for implementing and testing new energy technologies. Technology area. %.

    Based on the Energy technology survey 2007. (N=1038, more than one answer possible)

    Source: Borup et al. (2007)

    The energy technology areas are quite diverse in a number of innovation-relevant issues like actor set-up, institutional structure, maturity, and connections between market and non-market aspects. Despite the fact that the five technology areas are all embedded in the context of the energy sector in Denmark, there are large differences between the areas and the patterns of development. Though there also are similarities, the analysis shows that a discussion of dynamics and conditions of innovation in the energy area needs to be sensitive to the specific technology areas as well as to the market conditions.

    The high degree of diversity between the different technology areas implies that an efficient innovation and energy policy has to take into account these differences. The policy has to be specific and reflect the variation in maturity. In areas like solar cells, where the market is formative, qualified demand – for instance in the form of strategic public procurement - is central for the technology to develop further. In areas like energy efficiency, where there are considerable markets within selected fields, indirect public policy support in form of for instance information campaigns may be very effective (Borup et al. 2007).

    The existing use and combination of different policy instruments varies considerably between the various energy technology areas. There is a need for a higher degree of coordination between the different policy initiatives. Synergy can be obtained by a strategic combination of different instruments (market and non-market based).

    Policy learning is together with technological, organisational and institutional learning an integrated part of the learning economy. It implies that policy-making itself is a process of learning and that this process more and more takes learning and competence building in many parts of the economy into account. The goals, the instruments, the models, the data, the competence of the bureaucracy, the organisations and the institutions develop over time in interaction with each other. This is done partly as a conscious, and maybe even designed, process in which policy makers, bureaucrats, experts and scholars communicate and develop values, knowledge, competence and institutions over time – direct policy learning. It is also done in a less conscious, learning by doing way, or even as learning by accident as when policy makers discover that environmental regulations also in some cases, unexpectedly, increase competitiveness – indirect policy learning. It is clear that for instance the Danish wind power policy has never been conducted within a rational choice framework. The goals, the instruments, the relevant knowledge and the institutional framework have not been stable but have co-evolved and diversified since the 1970s where the Danish wind energy 'adventure' took off. It makes more sense to describe it as a process of both direct and indirect policy learning.

    In this paper innovation and policy learning processes in the different energy technology areas will be mapped, compared and analysed in order to get a better understanding of the policy impacts on the development of sustainable energy technologies.

    Main references

    Borup, M., Gregersen, B. & Madsen, A. N. (2007), "Development dynamics and conditions for new energy technology seen in an innovation system perspective", Paper presented at the DRUID Conference, June 2007.

    Foxon et al. (2005), "UK innovation Systems for new and renewable energy technologies: drivers, barriers and systems failures", Energy Policy 33, 2123-2137.

    Gregersen, B. & Johnson, B. (2008), "A Policy Learning Perspective on Developing Sustainable Energy Technologies", Paper presented at the 6th Globelics Conference on "New insights for understanding innovation and competence building for sustainable development and social justice, Mexico City, September 22-24, 2008.

    Jacobsson, Staffan & Anna Bergek 2004, "Transforming the energy sector, the evolution of technological systems in renewable energy technology", in Industrial and Corporate Change, vol. 13, no. 5, pp.815-849.

    Kemp, R. & Rotmans, J. (2005), "The Management of the Co-Evolution of Technical, Environmental and Social Systems" in Weber, M. & Hemmelskamp, J. (eds.) (2005), Towards Environmental Innovation Systems, Springer.

    Lundvall, B.. and Borrkg, S. (2005), "Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy" in Fagerberg, J., Mowery, D.C. and Nelson, R.R. (eds.) (2005), The Oxford Handbook of Innovation, Oxford University Press.