Latest INNOPATHS publications

Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool authors Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions

INNOPATHS consortium member, Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool has authored a recent book entitled, Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions, that uses INNOPATHS initial work and findings.

This book examines the visions, fantasies, frames, discourses, imaginaries, and expectations associated with six state-of-the-art energy systems—nuclear power, hydrogen fuel cells, shale gas, clean coal, smart meters, and electric vehicles—playing a key role in current deliberations about low-carbon energy supply and use.

Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions unveils what the future of energy systems could look like, and how their meanings are produced, often alongside moments of contestation.

Read more about it here.

How do policies mobilize private finance for renewable energy?—A systematic review with an investor perspective

With the urgency of climate change, and billions spent globally on renewable energy (RE) support policies, it is crucial to understand which policies are effective. Substantial scholarly research on RE deployment policies has been carried out over the last two decades, resulting in inconclusive findings regarding the effectiveness of mobilizing private finance. Here, we take a novel perspective and review 96 empirical studies concerning the impact of policies on two key investor decision metrics: investment risk and investment return. Only if both metrics correspond to the investors’ expectations are they willing to engage in RE projects. First, our rigorous literature review shows that effective policies address risk and return simultaneously. Second, we find that generic instrument design features, such as credibility and predictability (continuous evaluation and monitoring), considerably impact investment risk. A more focused analysis of the specific design elements of feed-in tariffs, auctions and renewable portfolio standards reveals that these instruments are most effective when they are designed in such a way that they reduce RE project risk while increasing return. We distil important implications for policymakers who aim to foster renewable energy and clean technologies more broadly.

Written by Friedemann Polzin, Florian Egli, Bjarne Steffen and Tobias S. Schmidt

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Energy Injustice and Nordic Electric Mobility: Inequality, Elitism, and Externalities in the Electrification of Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Transport

Much research on electric mobility transitions has been descriptive or positive, rather than normative or critical, assessing the deeper ethical, justice, or moral issues that arise. To address this gap, this study qualitatively examines the ongoing transition to Nordic electric vehicles(EVs) and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) systems. It does so through the various lenses of distributive justiceprocedural justice, cosmopolitan justice, and recognition justice. It asks: what are the types of injustices associated with electric mobility and V2G? In what ways do emerging patterns of electric mobility worsen socio-environmental risks or vulnerabilities? Based on original primary data collected from 257 experts across Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, the study finds that electric mobility can erode elements of distributive justice for being accessible only to the rich, and for raising risks related to privacy, hacking, and cyberterrorism. Electric mobility may contravene aspects of procedural justice by reinforcing exclusion and elitism in national planning. It can erode cosmopolitan justice by producing negative environmental externalities, and exacerbating rural (and global) vulnerability. It may threaten recognition justice through unemployment, disruption to traditional businesses, and the entrenchment of patriarchy. Thankfully, the study also proposes a suite of policy mechanisms to address many of these concerns.

By Benjamin K. Sovacool, Johannes Kester, Lance Noel, Gerardo Zarazua de Rubens.

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The role of intermediate trade in the change of carbon flows within China

In recent years, evaluating the emissions embodied in trade (EEIT) has become an important area of policy and research. Multiregional input-output (MRIO) analysis, which links producers and final consumers, is a widely-used method for quantifying the EEIT. However, the role of intermediate trade in driving changes in the EEIT is still not fully incorporated in MRIO analysis and as a result poorly understood. Here, we present a framework that separately identifies the drivers of the emissions embodied in the trade of final and intermediate products. We implement this framework in a case study in which we analyse the changes in CO2 emissions embodied in interprovincial trade in China from 2007 to 2012. We find that the largest changes are a rising final demand, which is associated with increased emissions that are to some extent offset by decreasing emissions intensity and changing interregional dependency. Regionally, the rising imports and the growth in final demand in less developed regions in the north and central (e.g., Hebei and Henan) reduced the CO2 emissions outsourced by central coastal regions and drove the traded embodied CO2 flows between the central and western regions. The framework enriches our understanding of the role played by intermediate trade in the relocation of emissions.

Written by Jing Meng, Zengkai Zhang, Zhifu Mi, Laura Diaz Anadon, Heran Zheng, Bo Zhang, Yuli Shan and Dabo Guan.

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A dynamic analysis of financing conditions for renewable energy technologies

Renewable energy technologies often face high upfront costs, making financing conditions highly relevant. Thus far, the dynamics of financing conditions are poorly understood. Here, we provide empirical data covering 133 representative utility-scale photovoltaic and onshore wind projects in Germany over the last 18 years. These data reveal that financing conditions have strongly improved. As drivers, we identify macroeconomic conditions (general interest rate) and experience effects within the renewable energy finance industry. For the latter, we estimate experience rates. These two effects contribute 5% (photovoltaic) and 24% (wind) to the observed reductions in levelized costs of electricity (LCOEs). Our results imply that extant studies may overestimate technological learning and that increases in the general interest rate may increase renewable energies’ LCOEs, casting doubt on the efficacy of plans to phase out policy support.

Written by Florian Egli, Bjarne Steffen and Tobias S. Schmidt

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Dr Elena Verdolini explains decarbonising the energy sector

CMCC and EIEE senior researcher Elena Verdolini explains how the energy sector, the largest producer of greenhouse gases, is surprisingly one of the easiest areas to decarbonise.

Electrification is growing fast as it becomes increasingly low-carbon or carbon-free entirely. Dr Verdolini explains how variability is a major obstacle to increasing the use of renewables and goes on to talk about the best ways to tackle the increasingly difficult obstacles this sector faces.

Read the full article here.


Dismissive and deceptive car dealerships create barriers to electric vehicle adoption at the point of sale

As most consumers do not have pre-existing knowledge of electric vehicles (EVs), and current market conditions favour petrol and diesel vehicles, car dealership experiences may strongly influence EV purchasing decisions. Here, we show that car dealer- ships pose a significant barrier at the point of sale due to a perceived lack of business case viability in relation to petrol and diesel vehicles. In 126 shopping experiences at 82 car dealerships across Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, wfind that dealers were dismissive of EVs, misinformed shoppers on vehicle specifications, omitted EVs from the sales conversation and strongly oriented customers towards petrol and diesel vehicle options. Dealers’ technological orientation, willingness to sell and displayed knowledge of EVs were the main contributors to likely purchase intentions. These findings combined with expert interviews suggest that government and industry signalling affect sales strategies and purchasing trends. Policy and business strategies that address barriers at the point of sale are needed to accelerate EV adoption.
Written by Gerarado Zarazua de Rubens, Lance Noel and Benjamin K. Sovacool

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Time to get ready: Conceptualizing the temporal and spatial dynamics of formative phases for energy technologies

Implementing the Paris agreement to prevent dangerous climate change requires energy system transformation and rapid diffusion of low-carbon innovations. In this paper we investigate both the temporal and spatial dynamics of formative phases by which energy technologies prepare for growth. Drawing on a review of diverse literatures, we offer a definition of the formative phase which clarifies its scope and duration, and identifies its main technological and economic determinants. We use parametric hazard models to assess the relative strengths of these determinants on formative phase durations for a sample of 15 energy technologies diffusing over time in their respective initial markets. We find that substitutability has stronger effects in accelerating the end of formative phases than installed capacity and prices. We extend our analysis using nonparametric models to analyze the spatial diffusion of formative phase durations from initial to follower markets. We find that formative phase durations are long outside initial markets as well, showing only signs of acceleration in latecomer regions. Our results imply risks for policies trying to accelerate the diffusion of large innovations without ready markets in both initial and follower markets.

Nuno Bento, Charlie Wilson and Laura Diaz Anadon

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Threshold policy effects and directed technical change in energy innovation

This paper analyzes the effect of environmental policies on the direction of energy innovation across countries over the period 1990-2012. Our novelty is to use threshold regression models to allow for discontinuities in policy effectiveness depending on a country’s relative competencies in renewable and fossil fuel technologies. We show that the dynamic incentives of environmental policies become effective just above the median level of relative competencies. In this critical second regime, market-based policies are moderately effective in promoting renewable innovation, while command-and-control policies depress fossil based innovation. Finally, market-based policies are more effective to consolidate a green comparative advantage in the last regime. We illustrate how our approach can be used for policy design in laggard countries.

Written by Lionel Nesta, Elena Verdolini and Francesco Vona

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Future prospects for energy technologies: insights from expert elicitations

Expert elicitation is a structured approach for obtaining judgments from experts about items of interest to decision makers. This method has been increasingly applied in the energy domain to collect information on the future cost, technical performance, and associated uncertainty of specific energy technologies. This article has two main objectives: (1) to introduce the basics of expert elicitations, including their design and implementation, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages and their potential to inform policymaking and energy system decisions; and (2) to discuss and compare the results of a subset of the most recent expert elicitations on energy technologies, with a focus on future cost trajectories and implied cost reduction rates. We argue that the data on future energy costs provided by expert elicitations allows for more transparent and robust analyses that incorporate technical uncertainty, which can then be used to support the design and assessment of energy and climate change mitigation policies.

Written by Elena Verdolini, Laura Díaz Anadón, Erin Baker, Valentina Bosetti, and Lara Aleluia Reis

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