Latest INNOPATHS publications

Patenting and business outcomes for cleantech startups funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy

Innovation to reduce the cost of clean technologies has large environmental and societal benefits. Governments can play an important role in helping cleantech startups innovate and overcome risks involved in technology development. Here we examine the impact of the US Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on two outcomes for startup companies: innovation (measured by patenting activity) and business success (measured by venture capital funding raised, survival, and acquisition or initial public offering). We compare 25 startups funded by ARPA-E in 2010 to rejected ARPA-E applicants, startups funded by a related government programme and other comparable cleantech startups. We find that ARPA-E awardees have a strong innovation advantage over all the comparison groups. However, while we find that ARPA-E awardees performed better than rejected applicants in terms of post-award business success, we do not detect significant differences compared to other cleantech startups. These findings suggest that ARPA-E was not able to fully address the ‘valley of death’ for cleantech startups within 10–15 yr after founding.

Written by Anna Goldstein, Claudia Doblinger, Erin Baker and Laura Díaz Anadón

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Dispossessed by decarbonisation: Reducing vulnerability, injustice, and inequality in the lived experience of low-carbon pathways

This study examines the justice and equity implications of four low-carbon transitions, and it reveals the “lived experiences” of decarbonisation as manifested across Africa and Europe. Based on extensive, original mixed methods empirical research – including expert interviews, focus groups, internet forums, community interviews, and extended site visits and naturalistic observation – it asks: How are four specific decarbonisation pathways linked to negative impacts within specific communities? Relatedly, what vulnerabilities do these transitions exacerbate in these communities? Lastly, how can such vulnerabilities be better addressed with policy? The paper documents a troublesome cohabitation between French wineries and nuclear power, the negative effects on labor groups and workers in Eastern Germany by a transition to solar energy, the stark embodied externalities in electronic waste (e-waste) flows from smart meters accumulating in Ghana, and the precarious exploitation of children involved in cobalt mining for electric vehicle batteries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The aims and objectives of the study are threefold: (1) to showcase how four very different vulnerable communities have been affected by the negative impacts of decarbonisation; (2) to reveal tensions and trade-offs between European transitions and local and global justice concerns; and (3) to inform energy and climate policy. In identifying these objectives, our goal is not to stop or slow down all low-carbon transitions. Rather, the study suggests that the research and policy communities ought to account for, and seek to minimize, a broader range of social and environmental sustainability risks. Sustainability transitions and decarbonisation pathways must become more egalitarian, fair, and just.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Bruno Turnheim, Andrew Hook, Andrea Brock and Mari Martiskainen

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The short-term costs of local content requirements in the Indian solar auctions

Developing and emerging economies are implementing local content requirements to spur domestic manufacturing, though their costs and benefits are not well understood and difficult to quantify. Here, we provide an empirical assessment of the short-term costs of local content requirements using a credible counterfactual. We analyse data on government-run solar photovoltaic auctions held in India between 2014 and 2017 and exploit the fact that not all of the auctioned contracts entailed local content requirements. We find that local content requirement policies resulted in a ~6% per kWh increase in the cost of solar photovoltaic power generated from those projects when compared to similar projects not subject to the same local content requirement policy. During this three-year time period, Indian solar panels remained around 14% more expensive than international panels. We found some evidence of short-term increases in domestic manufacturing capacity, yet during this short period Indian firms did not increase market share or break into export markets.

Written by Benedict Probst, Vasilios Anatolitis, Andreas Kontoleon and Laura Díaz Anadón

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Diffusion of flue gas desulfurization reveals barriers and opportunities for carbon capture and storage

Addressing climate change may require rapid global diffusion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). To understand its potential diffusion, we analysed a historical analogy: Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) in the global coal power market. Our findings challenge common patterns: diffusion of FGD is not described by a single S-curve but by multiple steps and does not slow down after materiality. The regulation-driven diffusion of FGD can be fast, especially for retrofit since it does not require new power plants. Owing to the mature size of coal power plants, the diffusion of FGD is driven by unit numbers instead of unit capacity growth. We find that the diffusion of CCS in climate change mitigation pathways, when normalised for economic growth, rarely exceeds the historical maximum diffusion rate of FGD. Our findings suggest that end-of-pipe abatement technology can diffuse fast and to a great extent provided deep, consistent long-term regulatory commitment.

Written by Stijn van Ewijk and Will McDowall

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Global Energy System Transformations to 1.5 °C: The Impact of Revised Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Carbon Budgets

The Paris Agreement calls for countries to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 °C. Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 °C describe fundamental transformations in energy systems and typically rely on emission reductions combined with carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere, mostly through large‐scale application of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). These options face several difficulties, such as reliance on underground CO2 storage and competition for land with food production. Here, using the PROMETHEUS global energy system model, alternative deep mitigation pathways are explored, in light of the revised carbon budgets specified in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5 °C. The pathways assess the potential contribution of energy efficiency improvements and more rapid electrification of energy services based on renewable energy. Although these alternatives also face specific implementation challenges, they are found to significantly reduce the need for CDR and BECCS, but not fully eliminate it, and offer an effective way to diversify transition pathways to meet the Paris targets. Achieving the 1.5 °C target is technically feasible but requires immediate, ambitious, and global action, based on large‐scale deployment of renewables, early retirement of fossil‐based power plants, accelerated efficiency improvements, and expansion of carbon‐free options in end‐uses.

Written by Panagiotis Fragkos

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Sustainable minerals and metals for a low-carbon future

Climate change mitigation will create new natural resource and supply chain opportunities and dilemmas, because substantial amounts of raw materials will be required to build new low-carbon energy devices and infrastructure (1). However, despite attempts at improved governance and better corporate management, procurement of many mineral and metal resources occurs in areas generally acknowledged for mismanagement, remains environmentally capricious, and, in some cases, is a source of conflict at the sites of resource extraction (2). These extractive and smelting industries have thus left a legacy in many parts of the world of environmental degradation, adverse impacts to public health, marginalized communities and workers, and biodiversity damage. We identify key sustainability challenges with practices used in industries that will supply the metals and minerals—including cobalt, copper, lithium, cadmium, and rare earth elements (REEs)—needed for technologies such as solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicle (EV) motors, wind turbines, fuel cells, and nuclear reactors. We then propose four holistic recommendations to make mining and metal processing more sustainable and just and to make the mining and extractive industries more efficient and resilient.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Saleem H. Ali, Morgan Bazilian, Ben Radley, Benoit Nemery, Julia Okatz and Dustin Mulvaney.

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The decarbonisation divide: Contextualizing landscapes of low-carbon exploitation and toxicity in Africa

Much academic research on low-carbon transitions focuses on the diffusion or use of innovations such as electric vehicles or solar panels, but overlooks or obscures downstream and upstream processes, such as mining or waste flows. Yet it is at these two extremes where emerging low-carbon transitions in mobility and electricity are effectively implicated in toxic pollution, biodiversity loss, exacerbation of gender inequality, exploitation of child labor, and the subjugation of ethnic minorities. We conceptualize these processes as part of an emerging “decarbonisation divide.” To illustrate this divide with clear insights for political ecology, sustainability transitions, and energy justice research, this study draws from extensive fieldwork examining cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the processing and recycling of electronic waste in Ghana. It utilizes original data from 34 semi-structured research interviews with experts and 69 community interviews with artisanal cobalt miners, e-waste scrapyard workers, and other stakeholders, as well as 50 site visits. These visits included 30 industrial and artisanal cobalt mines in the DRC, as well as associated infrastructure such as trading depots and processing centers, and 20 visits to the Agbogbloshie scrapyard and neighborhood alongside local waste collection sites, electrical repair shops, recycling centers, and community e-waste dumps in Ghana. The study proposes a concerted set of policy recommendations for how to better address issues of exploitation and toxicity, suggestions that go beyond the often-touted solutions of formalisation or financing. Ultimately, the study holds that we must all, as researchers, planners, and citizens, broaden the criteria and analytical parameters we use to evaluate the sustainability of low-carbon transitions.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Andrew Hook, Mari Martiskainen, Andrea Brock and Bruno Turnheim

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Beyond cost and carbon: The multidimensional co-benefits of low carbon transitions in Europe

The paper explores the myriad potential benefits of four low-carbon transitions beyond those in the environmental or economic domain. Drawn from a rich set of original mixed methods data—across expert interviews, focus groups, and public internet forums—we examine the presumed multidimensional, qualitative co-benefits to nuclear power in France, solar photovoltaics in Germany, electric vehicles in Norway, and smart meters in Great Britain. We cataloged 128 identified prospective co-benefits to these four European low-carbon transitions, 30 for nuclear power, 30 for solar photovoltaic panels, 26 for electric vehicles and 42 for smart meters. Tellingly, 37 of these collective benefits are identified as economic and 14 environmental, but the remaining ones illustrate a broader spectrum of technical benefits (31 in total), social benefits (30 in total) and political benefits (16 in total). After presenting this body of evidence, the paper then discusses these benefits more deeply in terms of complementarity, temporality, scale, actors, and incumbency. We conclude with insights for energy and climate research and policy more broadly.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Mari Martiskainen, Andrew Hook and Lucy Baker

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Long-Term Projection of Renewable Energy Technology Diffusion

The EU aims at increasing the use of renewable energy sources (RES), mainly solar-photovoltaic (PV) and wind technologies. Projecting the future, in this respect, requires a long-term energy modeling which includes a rate of diffusion of novel technologies into the market and the prediction of their costs. The aim of this article has been to project the pace at which RES technologies diffused in the past or may diffuse in the future across the power sector. This analysis of the dynamics of technologies historically as well as in modeling, roadmaps and scenarios consists in a consistent analysis of the main parameters of the dynamics (pace of diffusion and extent of diffusion in particular markets). Some scenarios (REMIND, WITCH, WEO, PRIMES) of the development of the selected power generation technologies in the EU till 2050 are compared. Depending on the data available, the learning curves describing the expected development of PV and wind technologies till 2100 have been modeled. The learning curves have been presented as a unit cost of the power versus cumulative installed capacity (market size). As the production capacity increases, the cost per unit is reduced thanks to learning how to streamline the manufacturing process. Complimentary to these learning curves, logistic S-shape functions have been used to describe technology diffusion. PV and wind generation technologies for the EU have been estimated in time domain till 2100. The doubts whether learning curves are a proper method of representing technological change due to various uncertainties have been discussed. A critical analysis of effects of the commonly applied models for a long-term energy projection (REMIND, WITCH) use has been conducted. It has been observed that for the EU the analyzed models, despite differences in the target saturation levels, predict stagnation in the development of PV and wind technologies from around 2040. Key results of the analysis are new insights into the plausibility of future deployment scenarios in different sectors, informed by the analysis of historical dynamics of technology diffusion, using to the extent possible consistent metrics.

Written by Tadeusz Skoczkowski, Sławomir Bielecki and Joanna Wojtyńska

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Why matter matters: How technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies

Previous work stresses that actors use strategic technology framing—i.e. purposeful language and rhetoric—to shape technology expectations, persuade stakeholders, and influence the evolution of technologies along their life-cycle. Currently, however, the literature predominantly describes strategic technology framing as a sociopolitical process, and provides only limited insights into how the framing itself is shaped by the material characteristics of the technologies being framed. To address this shortcoming, we conducted a comparative, longitudinal case study of two leading research organizations in the United States and Germany pursuing competing solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies to examine how technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies. We show that to frame PV technologies in their own favor, executives made use of four framing dimensions (potential, prospect, performance, and progress) and three framing tactics (conclusion, conditioning, and concession). Moreover, we show that which framing dimensions and tactics actors selected depended on the maturity and evolution of the technology they pursued, respectively. By highlighting how technology characteristics shape strategic technology framing, we contribute to the literatures on social movements, institutional entrepreneurship, and impression management. Additionally, by providing a coherent framework of strategic technology framing, our study complements existing findings in the literature on the sociology of expectations and contributes to a better understanding of how technology hypes emerge.

Written by Joern Hoppmann, Laura Diaz Anadon and Venkatesh Narayanamurti

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